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