Feb 12, 2009

Juvenile Court, Adult Corruption

Greed and corruption seem to be the only recent growth industries in the U.S. economy. The latest example involves two Pennsylvania juvenile court judges named Ciavarella and Conahan who allegedly demanded and received kickbacks in exchange for imprisoning youths in facilities run by private corporations.

The judges allegedly raked in $2.6 million without even having to go to all the hassle of operating a Ponzi scheme.  The more youths that Ciavarella and Conahan sent to the private prisons -- and the longer the terms of their imprisonment -- the more government money the prison operators made and the more they'd return to the judges as kickbacks.  Not surprisingly, even kids with clean records who committed the most minor of infractions often found themselves locked up.

Since juveniles charged with crimes have a right to counsel (see In re Gault, U.S. Sup. Court, 1967), you'd think that Ciavarella and Conahan would have been quickly found out. On the other hand, juvenile court proceedings are closed to the public, and perhaps the judges figured out how to dispose of cases as quickly as cattle auctioneers sell off livestock. Whatever means they used, they apparently managed to keep the kickbacks coming for 3 years.

Ciavarella and Conahan have been removed from the bench and have been charged with crimes.  If they are convicted, too bad they won't be sentenced by a judge with a financial incentive to give them the longest possible prison terms.