Judges plead guilty in scheme to jail youths for profit

Hillary Transue expected to get a scolding from the judge for mocking her high school assistant principal on a MySpace page. Instead, this stellar student from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., was sentenced to three months at a juvenile detention center on a charge of harassment.

“I felt like I had been thrown into some surreal sort of nightmare,” Hillary, 17, told The New York Times. “All I wanted to know was how this could be fair and why the judge would do such a thing.”

It turns out that the judge who sentenced her, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and a colleague, Michael T. Conahan, appeared in federal court in Scranton, Pa., to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud. Most shockingly, the income tax fraud stemmed from taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care.

While prosecutors say that Judge Conahan, 56, secured contracts for the two centers to house juvenile offenders, Judge Ciavarella, 58, was the one who carried out the sentencing to keep the centers filled.

The State Supreme Court has appointed another judge to determine what should be done with the estimated 5,000 juveniles who have been sentenced by Judge Ciavarella since the scheme started in 2003. Many of them were first-time offenders and some remain in detention.

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About Sandeep Junnarkar

Sandeep Junnarkar is the founder and editorial director of Family Lives Behind Bars.