oh beezy

miscellaneous cultural commentary from two urban twenty-somethings. on this here interweb, we go by "bee" and "zy."

juvie sentencing excess: outrageous.

Juvie has never seemed like the best idea.  The kids who end up there, and they are kids, are exposed to the dangers and pathologies of prison culture for what are usually minor charges (or in the case of someone I once knew, charges invented by unstable parents).  So this story about the PA judges who have now pleaded guilty to sentencing juveniles for profit is one of the most horrifying criminal justice stories I’ve heard in a while.   (Solely domestic anyway–Abu Ghraib and the suspension of habeas corpus are no less horrific than they ever were.)

But one of the most shocking parts of the case is the fact that juveniles are not required to have legal representation in PA.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1967 that children have a constitutional right to counsel. But in Pennsylvania, as in at least 20 other states, children can waive counsel, and about half of the children that Judge Ciavarella sentenced had chosen to do so. Only Illinois, New Mexico and North Carolina require juveniles to have representation when they appear before judges.

Children should not have the right to waive counsel in a labyrinthine legal system that is clearly corrupt.  The U.S. is a country where most people cannot drive until 18, and all cannot vote until 18 or drink until 21.  Emancipation before the age of 18 must be approved by a judge on the grounds that being under 18 makes minors unfit to take care of themselves.  Having a system that tries minors without ensuring their supervision does not protect their privacy–it leaves them vulnerable, exposed to the whims of judges or advocates who may or may not come to their defense.

I wish there was some petition or movement to create a federal requirement for minors’ legal representation in court cases. If I find one, I’ll post it here.  In the meantime, please do visit the Juvenile Law Center, to donate and find out more about the case.


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