Juvenile Law Center


When 13-year-old Matt watched his parents’ difficult divorce devolve into a nasty custody battle, he struggled to keep his emotions in check. One evening, after Matt accidently knocked over his mother’s boyfriend’s beer, the boyfriend accused Matt of throwing a piece of steak at him. At the time, Matt was 13 years old, stood approximately 4 foot 3 inches tall and weighed 82 pounds while the boyfriend was 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighed approximately 210 pounds. Still, Matt’s mother called the local police.

This was the beginning of Matt’s journey through the juvenile justice system. “I thought, maybe someone would pay attention and put an end to this mess,” said a somber, disillusioned Matt. “I was just a 13-year-old kid who really needed help to make my parents stop fighting.”

I thought, maybe someone would pay attention and put an end to this mess. I was just a 13-year-old who really needed help to make my parents stop fighting.


Like many of the youths who appeared before Judge Ciavarella in the Luzerne County juvenile court, Matt’s hearing was brief. He pleaded for the judge to listen and denied “assaulting” anyone. Nonetheless, Matt was handcuffed, shackled, and led from the courtroom in a state of disbelief. “I thought judges were supposed to…help me,” he said.

Matt spent 16 days in the PA Childcare detention center awaiting a psychological evaluation by the court-appointed psychologist. Moreover, the head of probation threatened to send him away until he was 21 if he didn’t cooperate. Matt languished for two-and-a-half months in a facility for delinquent teens—until his father contacted a local newspaper. Five days after his story came to light, Ciavarella released Matt and placed him on probation.

When Juvenile Law Center learned of the Luzerne County court’s suspicious behavior, we helped dismantle a conspiracy in which Ciavarella and Conahan traded young residents to for-profit facilities in exchange for nearly $2.9 million in kickbacks. And to address the unnecessary injustices inflicted upon kids like Matt, we convinced the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2009 to erase the records of anyone involved in these tainted proceedings.

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