Monday, March 05, 2012

Pennsylvania juvenile justice scandal: Judge got 28 years

Three years ago I wrote several posts on this blog and a House Points column in Liberal Democrat News to a scandal in Pennsylvania.

Judges in juvenile courts were revealed to be taking payments from the operators of juvenile detention facilities in return for ensuring that a steady supply of youngsters were given custodial sentences even if their offences did not warrant them. You can find all those posts labelled Pennsylvania scandal on this blog.

This afternoon Neil Monnery wrote about the case, revealing that last year Mark Ciavarella Jnr, a former judge, was sentenced to 28 years for his part in the affair.

He went on to quote Ciaverella, who seemed to blame the media, rather than his own criminality, for his fall:
Despite being found guilty the former judge wasn’t repentent and decided to turn on the media for fanning the flames that led to his conviction by the jury, “Those three words (kids for cash) made me the personification of evil,” he told the court, according to the Associated Press. “They made me toxic and caused a public uproar the likes of which this community has never seen.” 
So instead of apologising he was incensed that the media had dubbed it the ‘kids for cash’ scandal. Despite you know the fact that he was taking cash in return for sending kids to a juvenile detention facility when it wasn’t deserved. I actually think it might have been a fair headline and catchphrase by the media you know…
Neil does not give a source for these quotes, but you can find them in a USA Today news report from August 2011.

The Pennsylvania experience exposes in the starkest way possible the dangers of turning the judicial system into another profit-making industry. Those dangers were exposed by Nils Christie in his book Crime Control as Industry (reviewed here on the Prison Policy Initiative site):
Christie traces the extent to which crime control has come to dominate the economic structure by absorbing the unemployed into the roles of keeper and kept and then supplying services to each. Limited by space, let me highlight two of Christie's many sharp observations. First Christie argues that the applicable political economy to describe prisons is not slavery, but of the old work-houses, where the objective was not profit for the State, but for private parties to relieve the State of its unwanted population at the lowest cost possible. 
The second sharp observation is that justice itself has been mechanized to cope with the influx of raw materials and remove a democratic restraint upon growth. Mandatory minimums and the sentencing guidelines have served to remove discretion from judges, turning them into little more than secretaries for the legislature. While judges are in a unique position to learn details about victims and the accused; and could adopt sentences to match the needs of the offender and the community; that takes time. Time costs money, and the industry's conveyor must be kept moving, hence the removal of judge's discretion.

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