US judges took millions in bribes to send kids to prison

Two former Pennsylvania state judges accepted $2.8million in illegal payments to put children in for-profit jails (Pictures: AP/US Department of Justice)

Two former state judges who took bribes to send hundreds of children to prison have been ordered to pay more than $200million for the scheme.

In the so-called kids-for-cash scandal, Pennsylvania state judges Mark Ciavarella, 72, and Michael Conahan, 70, shuttered a county-run juvenile detention center in exchange for $2.8million in illegal payments from the co-owner and builder of two for-profit jails.

US District Judge Christopher Conner has awarded almost 300 plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the judges, with $106million in compensatory damages and $100million in punitive damages.

The victims are ‘the tragic human casualties of a scandal of epic proportions’, Conner wrote in the judgment explanation on Tuesday.

Presiding over juvenile court, Ciaverella held to a zero-tolerance policy that resulted in many children as young as eight years old winding up at the for-profit facilities – PA Child Care or Western PA Child Care. Many of the kids were sent for minor infractions like smoking, truancy, jay walking and petty theft, and had no prior violations.

Ciaverella is serving a 28-year prison sentence in Kentucky, and is scheduled to be released in 2035.

Meanwhile, Conohan is serving a more than 17-year sentence but was released to home confinement with six years left in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The state Supreme Court threw out about 4,000 juvenile convictions that more than 2,300 children were subjected to after the scheme was busted.

‘Ciavarella and Conahan abandoned their oath and breached the public trust,’ Conner wrote.

‘Their cruel and despicable actions victimized a vulnerable population of young people, many of whom were suffering from emotional issues and mental health concerns.’

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Marsha Levick, who is the co-founder and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, on Wednesday called the judgement ‘a huge victory’.

‘To have an order from a federal court that recognizes the gravity of what the judges did to these children in the midst of some of the most critical years of their childhood and development matters enormously,’ said Levick, ‘Whether or not the money gets paid.’

The scandal was among the worst ever uncovered within the justice system in the US.

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