Millions for selling children into slavery

Kuwait has a form of slavery, but then so does the US. A 2013 New York Times book review gives details:

In “Kids for Cash,” the investigative reporter William Ecenbarger tells the story behind a corruption scandal so brazen and cruel it defies imagination. Between 2003 and 2008, two Pennsylvania judges accepted millions of dollars in kickbacks from a private juvenile detention facility in exchange for sending children — girls and boys, some as young as 11 — to jail.

It is a harrowing tale, lucidly told by a journalist with a good eye for detail. The children’s stories continue to unsettle long after the book ends: the 13-year-old incarcerated forthrowing a piece of steak at his mother’s boyfriend; the 15-year-old for throwing a sandal at her mother; the 11-year-old for calling the police after his mother locked him out of the house; the 14-year-old for writing a satirical Myspace profile. Another 14-year-old, an A student, was sentenced for writing “Vote for Michael Jackson” on a few stop signs; she had a seizure while in detention, banging her head so hard she cracked her dental braces.

Mark Ciavarella is the judge who sent away all those children — and several thousand others — in cahoots with Judge Michael Conahan.

Two judges took money to trash the lives of children. Two judges made themselves rich by taking bribes to send children to prison for minor misbeahvior, or nothing at all.

After the briefest of hearings — the average length was four minutes — kids were dispatched to detention centers in which the judges had a financial interest. If parents were unable to pay the costs of detention, their children were sometimes held longer. One teenager’s Social Security survivor’s check, from his father’s death, was garnished to pay the costs.

What happened in Luzerne County, formerly known for coal and now for organized crime and public corruption (in certain districts, teachers have to pay for teaching jobs), was not a case of rogue judges acting alone. In a “festival of injustice,” prosecutors, public defenders, teachers and court employees saw it all and did nothing. At Ciavarella’s direction, juvenile probation officers talked kids out of exercising their right to counsel.

The judges stink, but so does the “criminal justice system” that makes such abuse available.

There is some vindication: Ciavarella and Conahan are serving lengthy prison terms, and the children’s records have been expunged. But there is no happy ending. Many children were traumatized by being shackled and summarily shipped off to jail only to be shunned by friends when they were ­released. Seven years after his incarceration, the young man accused of steak-throwing (he denied the charge) still has “a lost look about him,” Ecenbarger writes, “as though he has been permanently startled.”

Kuwait, the US – there’s not all that much to choose between us.

H/t Decker


  1. Gordon Willis says

    Judges, even judges, with years of jurisprudence and ethics and…justice…Yes, well, hanging is too good for them and all that. How can you repair a life so wantonly ruined? How is it even possible for naughty children or silly children to be not only abandoned by their world but destroyed by their world? Well, unfortunately, we see it all the time, in one form or another, and it always seems to have the same motive underlying it: my advantage trumps yours.

  2. Decker says

    The article fails to adequately underline the fact this occurred in the context of for-profit prisons and jails.

    Just as motels need guests, private prisons need inmates. Is it any wonder the rates of incarceration are so high in the U.S. as compared to other countries where private, for-profit prisons don’t exist?

  3. johnthedrunkard says

    NO difference? In the US we are ashamed and shocked. In Kuwait they are proud.

  4. Al Dente says

    Ciavarella is serving a 28 year sentence in a Federal prison. He will be eligible for parole in 2026, when he’ll be 85.

  5. says

    Oh, not everyone is ashamed of and shocked by the underlying arrangement – the routine sentencing of juvenile offenders to prison. I was barely aware of it myself (I’m ashamed to say) until that interview on Fresh Air a couple of weeks ago.

  6. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Are the children concerned suing the judges, legal systems and custodial institutions responsible for these injustices? Are the USA taking steps to male sure it can’t happen elsewhere?

  7. Blanche Quizno says

    I watched this unfold as it was happening, though I have no personal connection into the scandal. One young man committed suicide after being sent to juvenile prison for having a small marijuana pipe in his pocket at age 17. His first offence – he was sentenced to 4 months in a boot-camp-style prison and 30 days in youth jail. Because of this conviction, he lost the scholarship to college that he’d been promised as a wrestling star athlete. This chain of events sent his life spiraling out of control; he shot himself through the heart at age 23.

    There is a video here of his mom confronting that piece of shit judge – you need to hear it:

    From the “Kids for Cash scandal” Wikipedia page:

    Acting under a rarely used power established in 1722 and reserved for extraordinary circumstances, known as “King’s Bench jurisdiction”, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court appointed a special master on February 11, 2009 to review all juvenile cases handled by Ciavarella. Senior Judge Arthur Grim of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas was appointed special master and returned his findings in an interim report dated March 11, 2009. On March 26, 2009 the Supreme Court approved Grim’s recommendations and ruled that Ciavarella had violated the constitutional rights of thousands of juveniles, and hundreds of juvenile convictions were ordered overturned.

    A class action lawsuit was filed by the Juvenile Law Center on behalf of the juveniles who were adjudicated delinquent by Ciavarella despite not being represented by counsel or advised of their rights. Besides naming Ciavarella and Conahan, the suit seeks damages under the civil portion of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) against the judges’ spouses and business associates, shell companies, prison operators, and Luzerne County. Three other federal lawsuits filed on behalf of the victims have been consolidated with the Juvenile Law Center lawsuit into a master class action. An amended master complaint was filed on August 28, 2009.

    In June 2010 an injunction was filed on behalf of PA Child Care, Western PA Child Care, and Mid Atlantic Youth Services, the companies that provided treatment programs at the juvenile detention centers,[53] to prevent the ordered destruction of thousands of juvenile records on the grounds the records are needed for the defense’s case.

    On July 8, 2013, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Markel International Insurance Company v. Robert J. Powell, (his business partner) Gregory Zappala, et al., that the insurance company had no obligation to defend or indemnify the individuals or corporations involved, leaving the defendants liable for adverse judgments.

    In signing the legislation on August 7, 2009, Governor Ed Rendell castigated Ciavarella and Conahan, saying they “violated the rights of as many as 6000 young people by denying them basic rights to counsel and handing down outrageously excessive sentences. The lives of these young people and their families were changed forever.”

    Yeah, I think that goes without saying O_O

    I hope they sue the pants off those private prison companies and seize ALL their ill-gotten gains and more.

  8. Blanche Quizno says

    Since when has the USA ever given a shit about the Universal Declaration of Human rights??

  9. qwints says

    I believe that even suggesting that the US might be bound by it makes you a terrorist. Enjoy the No Fly List.

  10. chrislawson says


    There’s almost no point suing the judges or the criminal justice system when the current Supreme Court will simply find a reason to summarily reject it.

  11. says


    I believe that even suggesting that the US might be bound by it makes you a terrorist. Enjoy the No Fly List.

    Don’t worry, I decided a long time ago that a country that would treat me like a criminal instead of a visitor does not want my tourist money.

  12. wannabe says

    Blanche Quizno @7:

    I hope they sue the pants off those private prison companies and seize ALL their ill-gotten gains and more.

    Oh, don’t be silly. The companies will fight any such suits for years and years, draining their assets if need be. And then in the end, even if judgments bankrupt the companies they’ll have already paid out their profits to their stockholders, themselves usually a handful of executives and boardmembers. Protecting profits from potential liability is the primary purpose for incorporation in the first place.

    Suing the states is another matter, but they can claim sovereign immunity.

  13. Omar Puhleez says

    Years ago I read an article by Fred J Cook in ‘The Nation’ entitled ‘The Corrupt Society’ about this sort of thing.
    So what’s new?
    Certainly is a blight on the hopes and aspirations of the Pilgrim Fathers, the Founding Fathers, and the rest.

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