The hallways of his Pennsylvania middle school were crowded when 14-year-old Chad saw a male classmate bullying his female friend. He could’ve looked away and kept walking. But when the boy got physical, Chad made what became a life-altering decision to interfere. He shoved the boy away from the girl—and, unexpectedly, the boy fell against an open locker, gashed his head, and needed stitches.
In less than two minutes and without legal representation, Chad was sentenced to 90 days at a wilderness camp for delinquent boys, shackled to other juvenile offenders, and escorted from the courtroom.
Chad’s school and community exercised a strict zero-tolerance policy for assault that precluded administrative judgment or common sense, and he was promptly summoned before Luzerne County juvenile court Judge Mark Ciavarella.
Chad’s panicked mother consulted the probation officer, where she was promised that because this was her son’s first offense, there was no need to worry. Consequently, she neither hired an attorney nor requested a public defender. She did, however, assume she would have a chance to speak in court, and that Chad would have a chance to explain what happened. She thought she and Chad would have a chance to explain that Chad, who was incredibly close to his family, had lost his grandmother the day before the incident – and had lost his grandfather three weeks earlier. Both grandparents had been living at Chad’s home, and the loss – compounded by the loss of Chad’s aunt the previous year – had taken an emotional toll on Chad. Chad had compelling witnesses to present; “Even the victim’s mother was there to speak on Chad’s behalf,” Chad’s mother said. But Judge Ciavarella refused to listen to any of it. In less than two minutes and without legal representation, Chad was sentenced to 90 days at a wilderness camp for delinquent boys, shackled to other juvenile offenders, and escorted from the courtroom. “My heart dropped,” said Chad’s mother, still in disbelief. “I didn’t even get to hug him or kiss him goodbye.”
Chad was also distressed. “I was only 14 at the time,” he said. “I didn’t understand what was happening.”
What none of them could’ve known was that Judge Ciavarella was receiving kickbacks from for-profit facilities in exchange and consequently crippling the futures of hundreds of kids. Juvenile Law Center has since taken measures to ensure that all the children he unlawfully adjudicated will have their adjudications reversed and their records expunged, and is seeking compensation for these kids and their families through a federal court lawsuit.