To the editor: Recently a couple from East Cameron Township was charged with criminal offenses related to the alleged sexual assault of a girl. According to reports from media, the victim was assigned to perform community service, pursuant to a sentence to probation imposed upon her by the Northumberland County court, when she came into contact with the alleged perpetrators. An examination of the events leading to the commission of the alleged sexual assault is warranted.
There exists the issue of the victim’s involvement with the Northumberland County courts. The victim, a 14-year-old girl, was processed through the court, adjudicated delinquent and sentenced to a term of probation. One can only speculate as to what serious crime a 14-year-old could commit to lead her to be processed through the criminal justice system. According to reports in the local media, the girl in question was too timid to repel her alleged assailant yet the Northumberland County court failed this victim by issuing a child a criminal sanction when she would have likely benefited far more from education and mentoring.
There also exists the issue of the administration of the victim’s supervising agency, the Northumberland County Juvenile Probation Department. In Pennsylvania, county probation departments are administered as functions of the county’s court system and have oversight by a judge. They are intended to facilitate a defendant’s return to pro-social behavior through supervision and guidance. It is impossible to know how Northumberland County Juvenile Probation Department was operating to attempt to meet that objective without significant disclosure from them. Since it is unlikely that they will be volunteering any information, certain inquiries must be made.
Why was the victim being assigned community service as part of her probation?
Who was vetting and approving the private organizations receiving the benefit of probationer labor in the community service program?
How, if at all, was the victim and the organization for which she was assigned to work being monitored to ensure a positive outcome?
How was Northumberland County court working to address the problems that clearly exist within the administration of the juvenile probation department?
As these questions are answered, and more information becomes known, more lines of inquiry will emerge, and those must be pursued as well.
What happened to the young victim in this incident is a tragedy. That tragedy must not be compounded by allowing those officials who are responsible for creating it to evade culpability for their failures of responsibility. Further, those failures of responsibility cannot be allowed to happen again.
Charles Picarella Jr.