Two former Pennsylvania judges were ordered to pay $206 million in damages for a “kids-for-cash” scandal involving a for-profit prison and a scheme that victimized hundreds of children.
In one of the worst judicial scandals in US history, Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan shut down a juvenile detention facility run by the county in favor of two for-profit juvenile facilities. The builder and co-founder of the centers then gave $2.8 million in cash kickbacks to both judges for every child they sent to his detention facility, leading to the “kids-for-cash” moniker.
Evil and horrifying. They both need to take their last breaths in prison.https://t.co/MqMzONvaJU
— Rep. Gloria Johnson (@VoteGloriaJ) August 19, 2022
Over 300 plaintiffs were awarded a total of $106 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages by District Judge Christopher Conner who described the victims as “tragic human casualties of a scandal of epic proportions.”
Ciavarella, adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy which sent a high volume of juvenile violators to PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care. He routinely sentenced children as young as eight years old to be incarcerated for first time offenses such as “petty theft, jaywalking, truancy, smoking on school grounds and other minor infractions.”
In many cases, the judge had children restrained and imprisoned without legal defense or the opportunity to say goodbye to their families.
Judge Connor wrote, “Ciavarella and Conahan abandoned their oath and breached the public trust. Their cruel and despicable actions victimized a vulnerable population of young people, many of whom were suffering from emotional issues and mental health concerns.”
Following the kids-for-cash scandal, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania threw out close to 4,000 convictions involving over 2,300 juveniles defendants.
Lawyer for the plaintiffs and co-founder and chief counsel of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, Marsha Levick said that the award is a “huge victory.” She stated, “To have an order from a federal court that recognizes the gravity of what the judges did to these children in the midst of some of the most critical years of their childhood and development matters enormously, whether or not the money gets paid.”
Many agree that it’s highly unlikely that any of the victims, now adults, will see any money from the ruling. One attorney said that they would begin investigating the two disgraced judges assets, but doesn’t think that either has any money.
Additionally, many of the victims of this scandal have since overdosed or died by suicide.
Conahan, 70, was sentenced to over 17 years in prison but in 2020 was transferred to home confinement in at the start of the Covid lockdown.
Ciavarella, 72, is scheduled to be released from prison in 2035 at the end of his 28 year sentence.