Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mom publicly shares her pain in support of juvenile justice reform

Legislative committee meetings are usually pretty dry affairs. Legislators and staffers pour through the details of bills while wonkish advocates look on.

But that was not the case in the PA Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The committee considered- and ultimately passed- a package of bills to reform Pennsylvania's juvenile justice system in response to the court scandal in Luzerne County, where two judges took kickbacks from a private detention corporation in exchange for sending more kids to the facilities.

There in support of the legislation was Sandy Fonzo. Ms. Fonzo became the face of the Luzerne scandal when she publicly lashed out at Judge Mark Ciavarella in February. In a brief statement, Ms. Fonzo told the committee the story of her son, Ed Kenzakoski. Ed was an all-star wrestler with high hopes when he was arrested for drug paraphernalia. His family thought he would get a sentence of community service, but instead Ciavarella sentenced Ed first to 30 days in a facility and then to several months at a boot camp more than an hour's drive from his home. Ms. Fonzo said that he returned an angry, depressed young man, a far cry from the happy teen Ed had been before he encountered Ciavarella. Last year, at the age of 23, Ed shot himself to death.

As Ms. Fonzo told her story at Tuesday's committee meeting, I could hear sniffles around me and noticed several people wiping their cheeks. This was not just another day at the legislature.

After Ms. Fonzo finished telling her story, the committee chairman, Senator Stewart Greenleaf, told her that her loss would not go unnoticed at the legislature.

The ACLU of PA supports SB 815, prohibiting parents and guardians from waiving counsel for juveniles, and SB 817, prohibiting the use of shackles on juveniles in court, and we look forward to helping this legislation find its way to the governor.

Video of Ms. Fonzo's statement and the statements of Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) and John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) is available at the PA Senate Republicans' website. You won't regret taking a few minutes to watch it. You can also watch an interview from the Today show with Sandy Fonzo and her lawyer and friend of the ACLU of PA Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center.

Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see YouTube's privacy statement on their website and Google's privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU of PA's privacy statement, click here.

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