Hillary Transue: It’s time to fix state’s juvenile justice system

Hillary Transue, Times Leader •
PA State House

In April of 2007, I was sentenced to a youth forestry facility for mocking my vice principal online.

I was sentenced by the now infamous former judge Mark Ciavarella, who is now serving a lengthy prison sentence for his role in the construction of a for-profit juvenile detention center. Local officials and legislators swiftly condemned Ciavarella’s actions after exposed in the media under the sensationalized headlines, “Kids for Cash”.

An interbranch commission on juvenile justice was established in 2009 to address systemic issues highlighted by Ciavarella’s misconduct. Our community, particularly my peers who endured Ciavarella’s legacy, harbored hope for a fairer system. However, 15 years later, it’s disheartening to admit this hope has largely faded.

Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system remains inequitable, with reports of abuse in facilities such as Wordsworth, Glen Mills, Devereaux, Delaware County Juvenile Justice Center, and Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Services Center. Despite the evidenced success of diversionary programs, out-of-home placements still take precedence, and children as young as 10 can become involved in the system. Juveniles face adult charges, and — most important — youth of color bear a disproportionate burden.

Supporting House Bill 1381 is crucial for Pennsylvania to demonstrate its commitment to its youth and set a national example of equitable practices. This bill can alleviate facility overcrowding, reduce crime through evidence-based approaches, reduce racial disparities in the system and instill hope in our children and communities.