Allegheny County juvenile justice review shows improvement

| Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012

Allegheny County's juvenile justice system is making progress improving its practices but still has room to get better, according to a group of judges, lawyers and advocates charged with reviewing its practices.

The Allegheny County Commission on Juvenile Justice released a report Monday based on its review of procedures and comparisons to recommendations made in response to a 2010 report issued upon the so-called “cash for kids” scandal in Luzerne County. There, authorities accused judges of taking bribes to send juveniles to two private for-profit juvenile facilities.

“When kids come into our courtroom, we consider them our kids,” said Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Dwayne D. Woodruff, chair of the commission. “Allegheny County has long been in the forefront in the field of juvenile justice ... We believe that the reasons stem largely from the long-standing commitment of the court and its juvenile justice partners to continually seek to do better.”

Among the recommendations in the commission's 55-page report are:

• Hold formal, mandatory training sessions on judicial ethics at regular intervals.

• Require all judges to attend a minimum of 12 hours of continuing education each year.

• Increase the number of juvenile defenders in the Office of the Public Defender to 19 from 11.

• Require judges to state reasons for their judgments in open court.

• Eliminate shackling of juveniles in courtrooms.

• Create a group to ensure school districts better communicate with their local police departments any laws being broken on school grounds.

Common Pleas President Judge Donna Jo McDaniel said Allegheny County judges agreed to attend continuing education classes and eliminated shackling of juveniles in May 2011.

“We are gratified to learn that Allegheny County already meets most of the recommendations, and we are committed to making sure that we ultimately meet all of them,” McDaniel said.

Woodruff said the committee will review procedures annually.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or

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