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Judges take bribes to send kids to prison

Sir Tokyo Sexwale

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EARLIER this month, two judges in Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County admitted sentencing thousands of children to jail in return for kickbacks from a prison-management company. Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan received a commission for every day they sent a child to private juvenile detention centres run by Pennsylvania Child Care and a sister company. The pay-offs came to $2.6m over seven years.


“It just makes me think that anyone can betray the law,” says Jamie Quinn, one of the children exploited by the judges. Ms Quinn, from Scranton, was sent to juvenile prison for nine months at 14, after slapping a friend who, she claims, slapped her first.


Hillary Transue, who is 15 and faced Mr Ciavarella without a lawyer, was sentenced to three months because she constructed a fake MySpace page ridiculing the assistant principal at her high school. Her case led to the judges’ downfall; children have a constitutional right to a lawyer, and the case first alerted Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Juvenile Law Centre. His organisation exposed the larger crime.


Adam Graycar, of the Rutgers Institute on Corruption Studies, explains that what is really unusual about this tale is the scale of the corruption. First the judges received monetary rewards for sanctioning the building of a new private-sector prison in their area. Second, they were paid for closing a county-funded prison nearby. And, then, of course, they offered up the “juvenile delinquents” for the benefit of the owners of the new jail. Both judges were elected, not appointed.


The judges are going to jail, but the prison companies have so far avoided prosecution. Mr Schwartz fears this is because Robert Powell, the former co-owner of Pennsylvania Child Care, has been co-operating with the authorities. If the prisons get off, though, that will be another disgrace.


jebus f'in Christ

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