Thursday, August 18, 2022

Enormous damages awarded to victims of Pennsylvania juvenile justice scandal

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It was back in 2009 that the Kids for Cash scandal broke in Pennsylvania, but this development appeared on AP News only yesterday:

Two former Pennsylvania judges who orchestrated a scheme to send children to for-profit jails in exchange for kickbacks were ordered to pay more than $200 million to hundreds of people they victimized in one of the worst judicial scandals in U.S. history.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner awarded $106 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages to nearly 300 people in a long-running civil suit against the judges, writing the plaintiffs are “the tragic human casualties of a scandal of epic proportions.”

In what came to be known as the kids-for-cash scandal, Mark Ciavarella and another judge, Michael Conahan, shut down a county-run juvenile detention center and accepted $2.8 million in illegal payments from the builder and co-owner of two for-profit lockups. Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, pushed a zero-tolerance policy that guaranteed large numbers of kids would be sent to PA Child Care and its sister facility, Western PA Child Care.

Ciavarella ordered children as young as 8 to detention, many of them first-time offenders deemed delinquent for petty theft, jaywalking, truancy, smoking on school grounds and other minor infractions. The judge often ordered youths he had found delinquent to be immediately shackled, handcuffed and taken away without giving them a chance to put up a defense or even say goodbye to their families.

I don't know how they will raise the money - unless judges have to take out sentencing insurance. Ciavarella, 72, is serving a 28-year prison sentence in Kentucky, with a projected release date of 2035. Conahan, 70, was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison, but was released to home confinement in 2020 with six years left on his sentence because of the Covid pandemic.

Whenever I read of the way that commercial providers now run most British children's care homes, I think of this scandal. There is a danger that the profit motive will warp the debate on the care of vulnerable children, given the incentive to see more of them cared for away from their families.


Mick Taylor said...

If you think these problems are confined to the USA, think again. In the UK we have witnessed the privatisation of the care system (the so-called 'mixed economy'). There result is that child care is huge are expensive and the children in care get fare worse conditions and - usually - they are far away from their families.
Now I wouldn't want pretend that local authority homes re wonderful. They have been deliberately underfunded for years prior to privatisation. I was one of the council members who had to visit and report on homes in the past. I have seen dreadful conditions in LA homes and, very occasionally, good ones in private ones. As the cabinet member for Health and Social Care, I had to oversee the closure of all but one of our OPHs.
My experience suggests that homes for children and adults, properly funded, are far better than the private sector with its profit motive

Anonymous said...

Consideration should also be given to the privatisation of the prison service - G4S now runs Park Prison in Wales, and others as well, I expect. How long before they either want to expand, or need more "raw material" to process in order to turn a profit?
I'm a great fan of privatisation and the market for a number of things, but it's the State that should be the fount of all justice. together with the remedial provisions that go along with it. We really are on a slippery slope here.....

Jonathan Calder said...

Thank you, Anonymous. Sir Walter Monckton wrote in his report on the death of Dennis O'Neill in 1945:

"It is first necessary to explain the basis of the policy of committing children to a local authority which may board them out. The 'fit person', local authority or individual, must care for the children as his own. The relation is a personal one: the duty must neither be evaded nor scamped."