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House Committee Approves Legislation to Reform Juvenile Justice System, Says Toohil
12/7/2011
HARRISBURG – Legislation that would make important reforms to Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system was reported out of the state House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, said Rep. Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne), a member of the committee.

“The Kids for Cash scandal in Luzerne County brought these serious flaws in the system to light,” said Toohil. “These two bills make certain children have the same rights all the rest of us enjoy during a court proceeding.”

Senate Bill 815, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), would require the court to appoint an attorney for any child appearing without one at any hearing. It further provides that the right to have an attorney appointed may not be waived by the child or the child’s parent, guardian or custodian while retaining the ability for other parties to a juvenile delinquency proceeding to waive the right. The bill also provides that a child may appear with counsel at an intake conference conducted by a juvenile probation officer, but representation by counsel is not mandatory at such proceedings.

To view Toohil’s video comments, visit: http://youtu.be/54A0ymkC1U0

To view Baker’s video comments at the committee meeting, visit: http://youtu.be/ytPpFGRFpzI

“The right to have counsel is one we all take for granted, but one the children involved in the Kids for Cash case went without,” said Toohil. “It is sad we have to have such legislation, but it is necessary to prevent a time, years from now, when those in power become less vigilant of the rights of children. We need to take every step possible to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

Senate Bill 817, also sponsored by Baker, would require restraints such as chains, shackles, handcuffs and leg irons to be removed from a child during a juvenile court hearing. Exceptions to the law include if the restraints are necessary to prevent physical harm to the child or another person; to prevent disruptive courtroom behavior, if the child has such a history; to prevent the child from fleeing the courtroom, evidence by an escape history; and there are no less restrictive alternatives to restraint that will prevent harm. The bill would also require that the child be heard regarding the necessity of restraints and that the court make findings on the record before restraints are used.

“I commend and applaud Senator Baker for her fight for the children of Luzerne County and the children of this Commonwealth,” said Toohil. “I would also like to thank committee chairman, Representative Ron Marsico, for bringing these juvenile justice bills to the table.”

The legislation now moves to the full House for consideration.

State Representative Tarah Toohil
116th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact:
Rep. Toohil’s Office
717.260.6136
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