So, what is it about prison privatization that economic developers think is so good for us again?
Ciavarella found guilty on 12 of 39 charges: Juvenile Law Center responds to guilty verdict
In 2007, a frantic call from an alarmed parent prompted Juvenile Law Center to investigate irregularities in the Luzerne County Pennsylvania juvenile court. Juvenile Law Center discovered that hundreds of children were appearing without attorneys before juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella, and were then quickly adjudicated delinquent (found guilty) and sent to out-of-home placements for very minor offenses. In 2008, after further investigation, Juvenile Law Center petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to identify those children and vacate and expunge their records. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court initially denied that request.
The U.S. Attorney later filed federal criminal charges against Ciavarella and another Luzerne County judge for accepting nearly $2.9 million in alleged kickbacks from the developer and former owner of two private for-profit juvenile facilities in exchange for placing children in these facilities through the Luzerne County juvenile court process.
The conspiracy lasted from 2003 to 2008, involving as many as 6,500 juvenile cases and as many as 4,000 individual children. Over 50% of the children who appeared before Ciavarella did not have an attorney and 50 to 60% of these unrepresented children were placed outside their homes. Many of these children were sent to one or both of the two facilities involved in the alleged kickback scheme. The vast majority of children were charged with low-level misdemeanor offenses.
This clip, taken from a 2009 episode of ABC's "20/20," features the stories of some of these children and their families:
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In 2009, after learning of the illegal kickback scandal, Juvenile Law Center returned to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and asked the Court to vacate and clear the records of all of the youth who appeared in tainted juvenile proceedings before Ciavarella. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted Juvenile Law Center's request and issued an order to vacate and expunge the juvenile adjudications and records of all of the thousands of youth who appeared before Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008. [Visit our State Supreme Court Litigation page for more information.]
Recognizing that the children and families experienced significant emotional and financial harm as a result of their unlawful adjudications and placements, Juvenile Law Center, along with pro bono co-counsel Hangley Aronchick Segal and Pudlin, filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of children who were adjudicated or placed by Ciavarella, as well as on behalf of their parents. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages from the former judges, private facilities, and the developer under federal civil rights laws and the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. [Visit our Federal Civil Class Action Lawsuit page for more information].
Juvenile Law Center is also working to reform Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system to ensure that tragedies like those that occurred in Luzerne County’s juvenile courts are never repeated. [Visit our State Legislation and Reform page for more information.]
As a result of their involvement in the corrupt “kids-for-cash” conspiracy, Michael Conahan, Robert Powell (the owner of the facilities), and Robert Mericle (the developer) pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges; former judge Mark Ciavarella is scheduled to go to trial in February 2011. [Visit our Federal Criminal Charges page for more information.]