We are former administrative judges of the Family Division in Allegheny County. We have all been in charge of juvenile court, from 1980 to 2008. We are writing in response to an article by Donald Cohen, who seizes upon the extortion by two Luzerne County judges as an indictment of the entire private confinement system ("Justice for Sale," March 15 Forum).
First, let us make it clear that we are in no way condoning what these two judges did. Their actions are indefensible and bring shame to our judicial system. But two corrupt judges are not a reason to abandon a system that, except for this horrible situation in a single county, has served our youth well throughout the years.
Whenever we encountered juvenile court judges from other states, those judges almost unfailingly were envious of Pennsylvania's system, which utilized private facilities except for the most violent and incorrigible youth who were sent to the state facilities.
Rather than sending juveniles to cookie-cutter state facilities, Pennsylvania juvenile court judges have the opportunity to utilize innovative programs that are tailored to the particular needs of our juvenile offenders. Because of the wide array of treatment programs in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania judges rarely send juvenile offenders out of state for treatment. However, Pennsylvania treatment programs receive many juveniles from outside of Pennsylvania, and occasionally from outside of the United States, because of the lack of appropriate residential treatment programs in other states.
Mr. Cohen may well be making legitimate points regarding private prisons for adult offenders. Adult criminals are imprisoned for punishment and the protection of society. While protection of society is important to the disposition of juvenile offenders, the rehabilitation of the juvenile is equally as important. That goal is well served by a variety of private facilities customized for particular offenders.
Moreover, with the notable exceptions of the facilities involved in the Luzerne situation, almost all of the facilities to which Pennsylvania juveniles are sent are nonprofit and thus not subject to the evils referenced in Mr. Cohen's article.
The action of two corrupt judges, while awful, by no means warrants the elimination of a well-functioning juvenile system.
JUDGE KIM BERKELEY CLARK
JUDGE KATHLEEN R. MULLIGAN
JUDGE (RET.) GENE SCANLON
JUDGE GENE STRASSBURGER
JUDGE R. STANTON WETTICK JR.