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Kids for Cash

What is the “Kids for Cash” Scandal?

Most states in America allow juveniles from the age of eight to be sent to jail, but only for very rare cases. However, in other states, there is no age limit at all. The decision is often left to the judges. But in 2009 a scandal was revealed that definitely shocked the justice system of Northeast Pennsylvania.

The Kids for Cash controversy happened in 2009, when two judges, Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella were bribed to sentence children to prison by for-profit institutions in Pennsylvania.

The Kids for Cash Scandal

Two local courts were adopting a zero-tolerance approach for children’s misbehavior. Even minor infractions, such as fighting at school or underage drinking, resulted in time spent in a juvenile detention center.

Judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella were found guilty of collecting money in exchange for harsh judgments on adolescents to enhance occupancy at for-profit detention institutions that were run by Pennsylvania Child Care.

Event for the most minor of acts like ridiculing an assistant principal on Myspace or trespassing in a vacant building, Ciavarella sentenced thousands of adolescents to lengthy sentences in juvenile detention camps.

According to federal prosecutors, the judges received large sums of money from the said private confinement institutions. They claimed that the judges accepted money to keep the juvenile prison camps filled.

I wanted these kids to think that I was the biggest son-of-a-bitch that ever lived, I wanted them to be scared out of their minds when they had to deal with me. Because I was hoping, because of that, they would never put themselves again where they would have to come and deal with me. Look, this was a finder’s fee. We needed this center built. I was always yelling at kids because that’s what they needed because parents didn’t know how to be parents and so forth. So what’s the big deal now? I mean, everybody was celebrating me all these years and now they’re not happy with me anymore just because I took this money?

Mark Ciavarella

The Luzerne County court corruption scandal impacted the lives of over 2,500 children and involved over 6000 cases from 2003 to 2008. Over half of the children that appeared before Ciavarella did not have legal representation, and about 60% of these youngsters were taken from their homes. (Source: New York Times)

What Happened to the Two Judges When the Scandal Broke out? 

Michael Conahan was sentenced to 17.5 years in prison in 2011 for his involvement in the Kids for Cash affair. After taking $2.8 million from the for-profit detention center’s builder and co-owner, he pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge.

According to the Associated Press, Conahan, who was 68 at the time, was ordered home on a 30-day leave due to coronavirus fears. He had medical issues that make him more susceptible to catching COVID. That respite could result in permanent incarceration at home. 
After an 11-day trial, Mark Ciavarella was condemned to 28 years in federal prison in 2011. Racketeering conspiracy and money-laundering conspiracy were among the 12 counts he was convicted of, which Ciavarella later appealed as forbidden by the statute of limitations. Ciavarella maintains that he did not do anything wrong. And at the hearing on his motion, which was denied, his arrogance did not help his case.

(Source: New York Times)

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