Justice may catch up with judges who jailed kids for cash

February 21st, 2009 - 12:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 21 (IANS) Two former judges in Pennsylvania, who made more than $2.6 million in pay-offs by sending minors to prisons run by private companies, now themselves face the prospect of seven to 25 years behind bars.

But justice may take several months to catch up with perpetrators of one of the most stunning cases of judicial corruption on record in America.

Former Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan pleaded guilty in the federal court in Scranton to honest services fraud and tax fraud last week.

They face at least seven years in prison under the plea agreement, but the federal judge hearing their case could sentence them to up to 25 years in prison.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has removed the judges from the bench but they have been allowed to stay free until sentencing.

More than 5,000 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 were found guilty between 2002 and 2007 when the judges were active in Luzerne county, an impoverished former mining area where the majority of residents are white.

Of those, more than 2,000 were ordered sent to detention, said Marie Roda, a spokesperson for Juvenile Law Centre.

Many were from families with little money or education, which made them “easy targets,” she said.

“A lot of them didn’t have lawyers and when they asked for a public defender and they were told it would be weeks to wait,” Roda added.

The grey-haired jurists said little at Last week’s hearing where prosecutors described a scheme in which Conahan, the former president judge of Luzerne County, shut down the county-owned juvenile detention centre in 2002 and signed an agreement with PA Child Care LLC to send youth offenders to its new facility outside Wilkes-Barre.

Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, sent youths to the detention centre while he was taking payments, prosecutors said.

For years, youth advocacy groups complained that Ciavarella was ridiculously harsh and ran roughshod over youngsters’ constitutional rights.

Ciavarella sent a quarter of his juvenile defendants to detention centres from 2002 to 2006, compared with a statewide rate of one in 10.

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, and some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it. Many of the youths didn’t have attorneys.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Politics |