A pair of juvenile court judges in Pennsylvania have pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks between 2003 and 2006 in exchange for sending youths to privately run detention centres. According to prosecutors, former Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan raked in more than $3 million for sending young offenders to facilities run by PA Child Care LLC and Western PA Child Care LLC.
Several counties in Pennsylvania have agreements with detention centre operators in which the companies are paid according to the number of detainees they house. Conahan is alleged to have played a leading role in shutting down the county’s publicly run detention centre in 2002 and in directing the multi-million-dollar contracts toward the two companies.
Ciavarella, meanwhile, kept the detainees coming. The former president of Luzerne County Courthouse had long been the target of critics who said he was unusually harsh in his sentencing. Between 2002 and 2006, Ciavarella locked up a quarter of those who came before his court, more than double the state-wide average. (In one particularly egregious case, Ciavarella sentenced a teenager to three months in detention for building a MySpace page that poked fun at her high school’s assistant principal.) Now, the state’s Supreme Court is looking into overturning hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of sentences handed down in connection with the fraud.
No one associated with the companies has been charged, though investigators say their inquest is ongoing. However, the one-time co-owner of PA Child Care, Bob Powell, claims he too was a victim of Ciavarella and Conahan. “These judges,” his attorney, Mark Sheppard, told the Associated Press, “made it very plain to Mr. Powell that he was going to be required to pay certain monies.”
The judges’ plea deals call for each to serve 87 months in prison.
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.