Pennsylvania’s notorious juvenile-detention scandal has spawned two new works of storytelling: a hard-hitting documentary that’s out this week, and a local author’s hot new young-adult adventure.
One of the most crushing aspects of Robert May’s documentary about the case is the helplessness and confusion expressed by parents who were, understandably, wrecked watching their children be carted away after signing a “written waiver of counsel.” Ciavarella’s zero-tolerance approach to juvenile justice, tragically, trickled down from the bench to the rest of his courthouse in Wilkes-Barre: the clerks who didn’t seem very good at explaining to the accused what it meant to waive counsel (appear without a lawyer), the bailiffs who treated shackled teens like hardened criminals, the parole officers who were eager to throw newly freed kids back in detention.
Thank goodness for the Juvenile Law Center, a non-profit founded by Temple Law grads that watches over the rights of children nationally, which became an ally for Hillary Transue and her family. They started to cry foul once it became clear that Ciavarella’s court experienced a rate of waiving counsel approximately 10 times the national average—more than 50 percent of cases were processed without counsel. They got a call from the FBI and shortly thereafter, Ciavarella’s court had piles of damning documentation seized. Zero tolerance was over—but the damage had been done. / B.C.