Corrupt Pennsylvania Courts Jail Kids for CashWritten by: Cameron Print This Article
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Two Pennsylvania juvenile court judges are being prosecuted for corruption in a shocking scandal involving corruption, abuse of law, and what amounts to government-sponsored child abuse. Since December 2002, they allegedly sentenced children who were denied legal representation and fair trials to detention in private jails from which the judges received kickbacks.
The two Luzerne County judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conohan, have reached a plea bargain in which they admit to receiving more than $2.6 million in income from their corrupt actions. The judges face at least seven years imprisonment, but federal sentencing could land them in prison for up to 25 years.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is reviewing juvenile court convictions in Luzerne County from 2003 onwards to determine if sentences should be altered, new hearings are warranted, and legal records should be expunged. But the damage to the thousands of kids affected by this corrupt system may haunt them for the rest of their lives.
During the reign of these corrupt judges, more than 5000 children were found guilty and more than 2000 detained in private jails. Many of their crimes were very minor but resulted in extreme sentences. One boy found guilty of stealing a $4 jar of spices was sentenced to 9 months in private jail. Another caught exploring an abandoned building was sentenced to several weekends of correctional camp.
Moreover, some of the kids were sentenced to jail for actions which may not have even been criminal. In at least one case, the judges appeared to be enforcing censorship by the government. In 2007, Ciavarella sentenced teenager Hillary Transue to 3 months in jail for making fun of her high school assistant principal in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on a MySpace web page.
Robert J. Powell, a former co-owner of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centers to which many of these kids were sent, claims he was a victim of extortion by the judges. The kids were sent to his facilities, and he claims he was told by the judges that he would be required to pay them in exchange.
When they weren’t busy abusing kids and violating their rights for cash, the judges allegedly traded cash for probations for serious offenders convicted of violent crimes. Judge Peter Paul Olskewski has issued orders to send several of these kids back to prison.
Showing the true colors of the corrupt Luzerne County court system, FBI investigation of the courts nabbed a third corruption suspect. County Court Administrator William T. Sharkey was charged with embezzling more than $70,000 in seized gambling money between 1998 and 2008. He’s also agreed to a plea bargain and could face up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Hundreds of families in Luzerne County are joining a class-action lawsuit against the two judges. Meanwhile, political commentators are citing the actions of these judges as reasons why the US still needs the death penalty. As NJ Voices writer Paul Mulshine puts it:
In my ideal world, everyone involved in a prosecution like this, from the school officials to the arresting officers to the judges, would at the very least be fired and forced to pay restitution. But the judges who took the kickbacks would pay the ultimate price. Those who use the power of government to deprive others of their liberty should be aware that if they abuse that power they may lose their lives.
Thomas Jefferson also wrote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
These two would make wonderful fertilizer.
It’s our opinion that government abuse will not stop until the penalties for misconduct far outweigh the gains. But with widespread immunity from prosecution for many civil servants, including court and CPS employees, there is a long way to go to keep such abuses from recurring.