Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kids get Sent to Jail for Cash

It is good to see that these two judges are being being held responsible for their role in sending juveniles to jail in return for kickbacks. This article even goes so far as the compare their actions to the "grim, 19th-century landscape" of Charles Dickens, where the justice system is routinely set in motion against the youth. It's amazing how little changes--at least as a society we know these kinds of actions are reprehensible, but it only underscores how pitted against the youth the system still is.
The judges, Luzerne County President Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., 58, and his predecessor, Senior Judge Michael T. Conahan, 56, will serve seven years in jail under a plea agreement. They're alleged to have pocketed $2.6 million in payments from juvenile detention center operators.
The judges will also be disbarred, bounced from the bench, and loose their pensions. Juveniles get brought in for petty things all the time, it's bad enough there's such a social stigma against young people to the point where they're being locked up for even non-crimes, but it's disheartening to know that the system could be profiting handsomely from it. Here's an overview of what they could get away with in Pennsylvania's current juvenile court system:
First, the judges helped the detention centers land a county contract worth $58 million. Then their alleged scheme was to guarantee the operators a steady income by detaining juveniles, often on petty stuff.
How were they able to get away with this for so long?
In asking the court to intervene in April, the law center cited hundreds of examples where teens accused of minor mischief were pressured to waive their right to lawyers, and then shipped to a detention center. One teen was given a 90-day sentence for having parodied a school administrator online. Such unwarranted detentions left "both children and parents feeling bewildered, violated and traumatized," center lawyers said.

"Very few people would stand up" to the Luzerne judges, according to the law center's executive director, Robert G. Schwartz.
The unfortunate thing is they didn't stand up, which makes one wonder what their own interests are in the system. As the article states, if this kind of thing can happen, then we loose faith in the impartiality of the courts of Pennsylvania--we can peal away the blindfold on the symbol of justice. Granted though, in the article they highlight probably the most asinine case to prove the point, as many others are probably not so asinine, but the argument still holds--in fact, they're sending the investigation off to a higher power:
The blind justices on the state's high court, though, took a pass. Only last month, they offered no explanation in declining to take up the law center's request that the court step up. Now, the state Supreme Court should revisit the issue, since the scope of corruption alleged at the Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre could further undermine confidence in the courts statewide.

Authorities need to redress running roughshod over juveniles' rights - a process also likely to bring damage suits. While the local district attorney pledges to "do our best to right the situation," this calls for an independent, outside review.
Rooting out these two judges is hopefully just the beginning of a long train of reforms that will be swept through to target this inner corruption in the courts. In the meantime, all those youth have to deal with being imprisoned, often on charges of things considered "petty," and even if they are all expunged, they still have to deal with having a record.

Is a million dollars worth ruining a child's life? Some in our justice system seem to think so.

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