Wednesday, September 08, 2021

The Kids for Cash scandal in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

One of the most remarkable stories I ever reported on this blog was the Kids for Cash scandal in the city of Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania.

As the Wikipedia page on the scandal says:

In 2008, judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella were convicted of accepting money in return for imposing harsh adjudications on juveniles to increase occupancy at for-profit detention centres.

Many of the children and teenagers were locked up for trivial offences and kept behind bars for years.

In 2013 Robert May released a well-received documentary, Kids for Cash, on the scandal. That film is not online, but you can watch May talk about the film in video above.

Usefully, he talks about the ways of dealing with children and teenagers in school and the legal system that made the scandal possible as well as about the cupidity of the two judges.

When blogging about the scandal at the time, I refereed more than once to the book Crime Control as Industry by Nils Christie.

A review for the Prison Policy Initiative usefully summarises his argument:

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.

1 comment:

nigel hunter said...

I understand there will be a 'school' opening up in the next couple of years to 'assist' 'unruly' children.Could this go the same way as in America if we are not careful?