Following through on an idea he first proposed last year after viewing director Robert May’s non-fiction film, “Kids for Cash,” U.S. Sen. Robert Casey introduced a bill to end the detention of juveniles for “status offenses,” acts such as truancy and breaking a curfew.
Casey, a Democrat, proposed the bill last September, but on Friday got a potentially big bipartisan boost by having Republican Sen. Rand Paul join in introducing the bill, titled “the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act.”
The bill would essentially restore a national ban on detention of status offenders that had been written into the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. That law was amended in 1984 to allow such detentions if the juvenile offense in question violated a court order. Such a detentions is known as a Valid Court Order exception, or VCO.
In proposing the bill last September and again in announcing its introduction Friday, Casey cited national statistics, noting VCOs have resulting in the incarceration of more than 1,000 youths each year.
The bill by Casey, of Scranton, and Paul, of Kentucky, would eliminate VCOs, a move that would have a bigger impact in some states than in others. In the last two years, 23 states — including Pennsylvania — have reported zero use of VCOs.
Casey proposed the bill last year following the release of May’s movie, which recounted the juvenile justice scandal that led to the conviction of former Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan.
The title, which had become common shorthand for the scandal, referred to claims by prosecutors that the two schemed to send juveniles deemed delinquent to private, for-profit detention and treatment centers in exchange for millions in payments from a co-owner of the facilities, and from the man contracted to build them.
Ciavarella, who was the juvenile court judge at the time, has consistently rejected the “Kids for Cash” label, passionately insisting he never sent children anywhere in exchange for money. Both men are serving lengthy prison terms.
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