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Lock ’em Up: Jailing Kids is a Proud American Tradition |

April 2, 2009

“kids for

cash” scandal, two judges have pleaded guilty to accepting $2.6 million

in kickbacks from a for-profit juvenile correctional facility — a

privately owned jail for kids, essentially.

And here is what the judges delivered, according to the charges of

the U.S. Attorney overseeing the case: In 2003 one of them, Judge

Michael Conahan, who had authority over such expenses, defunded the

county-owned detention center, channeling kids sentenced to detention

to the private jail — along with the public’s money.

For good measure, the feds charge, Mr. Conahan also agreed to send

the private facility $1.3 million per year in public funds. Over the

succeeding years, the private jail, along with a second

lockup-for-profit that had opened in another part of the state, won

tens of millions of dollars in Luzerne County contracts, allegedly with

the two judges’ help.

What has drawn the media’s attention, though, is the remarkable

strictness of the judges’ judging. Mr. Conahan’s alleged partner in the

scheme, Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr., reportedly sent kids to the private

detention centers when probation officers didn’t think it was a good

idea; he sent kids there when their crimes were nonviolent; he sent

kids there when their crimes were insignificant. It was as though he

was determined to keep those private prisons filled with children at

all times. According to news stories, offenses as small as swiping a

jar of nutmeg or throwing a piece of steak at an adult were enough to

merit a trip to the hoosegow.

Over the years Mr. Ciavarella racked up a truly awesome score: He

sent kids to detention instead of other options at twice the state

average, according to the New York Times. He tried a prodigious number

of cases in which the accused child had no lawyer — here, says the

Times, the judge’s numbers were fully 10 times the state average. And

he did it fast, sometimes rendering a verdict “in the neighborhood of a

minute-and-a-half to three minutes,” according to the judge tasked with

reconsidering Mr. Ciavarella’s work.

via Lock ’em Up: Jailing Kids is a Proud American Tradition |


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