“Kids for Cash”

With all the problems plaguing juvenile justice, we really don’t need added corruption. Judge Mark Ciavarella from Pennsylvania was under suspicion for his “assembly line” service of juvenile offenders. Kids would be in and out of his courtroom in minutes and most of them were sentenced to detention facilities. Instead of state run facilities, the juveniles in his courtroom were sentenced to two particular private facilities. Under Ciavarella there was a 21% detention placement rate, up from the 4.5% detention placement rate with the prior judge.

This article outlines some of the offenses which landed kids in these detention centers:

A 10-year-old girl who accidentally set her bedroom on fire spent a month in a detention center.

A 13-year-old boy got 48 days for throwing a steak at his mother’s boyfriend during an argument. Ciavarella locked up another 13-year-old boy for failing to testify against a fellow student who brought a knife to a school dance.

A 15-year-old was sentenced to a boot camp for “an indefinite period” after she wrote a prank note that was deemed a “terroristic threat.”

A 16-year-old spent a month in a boot camp for creating a MySpace page that made fun of her high school’s assistant principal.

A 17-year-old boy charged with possessing drug paraphernalia, his first offense, served a total of five months.

It was believed, by authorities, that the juvenile offenders in Ciavarella’s courtroom were routinely pressured to waive their right to counsel and plead guilty without being informed of the consequences of doing so.

Many of the offenses which came before Judge Ciavarella did not warrant placement in a juvenile detention facility, yet Ciavarella’s defense attorney states “[i]t looks like it worked,” implying that placement reduced recidivism of these offenders. The problem is that most of these minor offenses would not necessarily have lead to further involvement in the juvenile justice system. Creating a silly MySpace page hardly seems anything other than a prank, which this young juvenile had to serve a month of boot camp for. It may seem to have “worked” in reducing recidivism but is this justice?

On February 13, 2009, Judge Ciavarella pled guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement, to federal charges of honest services fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion in connection with receiving $2.6 million in kickbacks from two private, for-profit juvenile facilities. The Supreme Court stated that there has been a “travesty of juvenile justice.”  However, Ciavarella has denied that there was a connection between the juvenile sentences he rendered and the kickbacks he received. On July 30, 2009, the Judge rejected the plea agreement. On February 18, 2011, a jury in federal court found Mark Ciavarella guilty of racketeering. He is awaiting sentencing.