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Originally published April 22 2009

U.S. Judge Received Kickbacks for Sentencing Children to Juvenile Detection Centers

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Two Pennsylvania judges have pleaded guilty to improperly accepting $2.6 million from a private juvenile detention facility in what has come to be known as the "cash for kids" scandal.

Juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella and presiding judge Michael Conahan are expected to receive seven years in prison for violating conflict-of-interest and tax laws. But according to the prosecution, the judges' misconduct went far deeper: They entered an understanding in which they would sentence children to custody at a specific detention center in exchange for kickbacks from the center's owner, Bob Powell.

The case broke in January 2007, when 14-year-old Hillary Transue was charged with harassment after she put up a fake MySpace page -- including a disclaimer indicating that the site should be taken as humor -- satirizing the harsh policies of her school principal. Less than a minute into her hearing and without asking for her side of the story, Ciavarella sentenced Transue to three months at a detention facility owned by PA Child Care (PACC).

Transue's mother complained to the Juvenile Law Center in Wilkes-Barre, which launched an investigation that uncovered cases of summary sentencing by Ciavarella as far back as 1999. Investigators discovered that while Ciavarella's rate of custodial sentencing was only 4.5 percent when he took office in 1997, it spiked to 13.7 percent in 1999 and increased to 26 percent by 2004.

According to prosecutors, Ciavarella and Conahan conspired to strip publicly owned juvenile detention centers of funding so that more children could be sentenced to PACC's facility. They eventually signed an agreement with PACC to send teenagers exclusively to that facility.

The court is now reviewing the cases of 2,000 children sentenced by Ciavarella over the past seven years, and the Juvenile Law Center has filed a class action suit against the two judges and their co-conspirators on behalf of more than 80 children.

For now, the judges' sentencing provides a small measure of justice for some of the victims.

"It's nice to see him on the other side of the bench," Transue said of Ciavarella.

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