This is not a California story, but it is so breathtakingly callous in its lack of regard for the well-being of kids—so evil really—that it cannot possibly go unremarked here.
At 1 p.m. today, Thursday, two judges from Luzerne County Pennsylvania, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, will plead guilty to charges that they took $2.6 million in payoffs to put kids in privately-operated juvenile prisons, whether they belonged there or not. To put it more plainly, these two men locked up hundreds, maybe thousands of teenagers—not because the kids required or deserved incarceration—the judges did it for the money. Big money.
The AP had this on the story:
For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.
The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench.
In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers.
“I’ve never encountered, and I don’t think that we will in our lifetimes, a case where literally thousands of kids’ lives were just tossed aside in order for a couple of judges to make some money,” said Marsha Levick, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which is representing hundreds of youths sentenced in Wilkes-Barre.
The Pennylvania Supreme Court is now being asked to look at hundreds, of cases that may need to be overturned and/or expunged. It is probable, say authorities and youth advocates, the number will climb to the thousands.
Among the offenders were teenagers who were locked up for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing a prank note and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many had never been in trouble before. Some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it.
Many appeared without lawyers, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 ruling that children have a constitutional right to counsel.
The judges are scheduled to plead guilty to fraud Thursday in federal court. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years behind bars.
Seven years does not seem anywhere near to long enough.