Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Juvenile System Gets High Marks Allegheny County Review, in Wake of Luzerne Case, Notes Lack of Funds

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Juvenile System Gets High Marks Allegheny County Review, in Wake of Luzerne Case, Notes Lack of Funds

Article excerpt

Using the Luzerne County "Kids for Cash" scandal as a backdrop, officials in Allegheny County's juvenile court system set out to review their own county's state of affairs.

On Monday, they released the first countywide report of its kind in Pennsylvania. It was largely complimentary of the system, although it also pointed out a number of problems, many of which are caused by funding shortfalls.

The Allegheny County Commission was chaired by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Dwayne Woodruff, who sat on the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice established in 2009 in response to what happened in Luzerne County.

"It was tragic," he said of the Luzerne County situation.

Two judges there went to federal prison for taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from two for-profit youth detention centers. In exchange, the judges sentenced juveniles appearing before them to serve sentences in those facilities.

Judge Woodruff told the story of a girl who had been a straight- A student and Girl Scout with not a single detention -- let alone an arrest -- who was held in Luzerne County for more than eight months for flipping her middle finger at a police officer.

Even though her court saga has ended, the girl has been unable to return to school.

"She was such a promising young lady," Judge Woodruff said. "The heart, that drive she had, is no longer there.

"We're still trying to figure out how do we help those people get back on track."

The Allegheny County report praised the work of juvenile court prosecutors from the district attorney's office, noting that five assistant district attorneys as well as a deputy district attorney work in the unit full time.

It criticized a lack of funding for the Allegheny County public defender's office, which recently lost $850,000 per year from the state. …

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