Injustice for sale — Judges jail children for money

February 24, 2009

Two judges pled guilty in Pennsylvania last week to putting children in jail for money. The Judges accepted more than $2.6 million from a private youth detention center in Pennsylvania in return for giving hundreds of youths and teenagers to unnecessarily long sentences.

Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, Judges of the Court of Common Pleas in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, pled guilty in federal court in Scranton, Pennsylvania, pursuant to plea bargains with the United States Attorney’s office. They admitted that they had accepted payoffs from PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare between 2003 and 2006. They are each facing up to seven years in prison.

The scam worked like this: The judges sent juveniles to the detention center so the company running the facility received money from the county government to pay costs of the incarceration. Thus, as more children were sentenced to the detention center, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare received more money from the government.

The judges sentenced the children to more severe sentences that required incarceration in order to generate more money. Teenagers who were sentenced by Judge Ciavarella in juvenile court were sentenced to detention centers for minor offenses that ordinarily would have been classified as misdemeanors, according to the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit group. One seventeen-year-old boy was sentenced to three month’s detention for being in the company of another minor who was caught shoplifting. Others were given similar sentences for simple assault in which the charges stemmed form a scuffle in the school yard, and these would ordinarily merit only a warning.

Although the juveniles were guaranteed the right to a lawyer in court, many of them appeared before Ciavarella without an attorney because the probation service personnel told them that their charges were so minor that they didn’t need an attorney.

The chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, Marsha Levick, estimated that of approximately 5,000 juveniles who appeared before Judge Ciavarella from 2003 and 2006, between 1,000 and 2,000 received excessively harsh detention sentences. She said the center intends to sue the judges, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare to obtain money damages for their juveniles victims.

Prosecutors were quoted as saying “That judges would allow their greed to trump the rights of defendants is just obscene.” That is always so, but it is especially so here where the defendants were so young and vulnerable. This is an extremely vicious crime because it strikes at the integrity of the system, but it appears even more vicious when considering how young lives may have been damaged so severely, taken from school and parents, put into a detention center where there are likely young predators waiting for someone to prey on.

The judges tried to hide their ill-gotten income from this scheme by creating false records and rouging payments through intermediaries. “Your statement that I have disgraced my judgship is true,” Ciavarella wrote in a letter to the court. “My actions have destroyed everything I worked to accomplish and I have only myself to blame.” Conahan had no comment to make.

Ciavarella and Conahan were removed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as judges when the charges were filed in federal court, and the Supreme Court appointed a judge to review all the cases involved.

Again, we have an instance where innocent people are falsely persecuted. It certainly indicates the need for a defense lawyer who can be the legal advocate in protecting the rights of the accused, even for something that seems minor, at first blush. It’s very possible that many of these children sentenced did not have an attorney because it seemed their situation was such a minor offense but that just made it easier for the judges to get away with this injustice.

Consequently, it’s always advisable to seek advice from a competent criminal attorney, when you or your child is charged with any kind of criminal, even petty, act. Get educated on how to choose the best lawyer and discover how to avoid common mistakes by going to my website at http://www.oklahomacriminallawoffice.com

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