By ERIN THOMPSON
For most kids, putting up a spoof MySpace page of a school official, throwing a pillow at someone, or getting in a fight might end in getting grounded by parents, or even suspended from school. But, for some kids in Pennsylvania, these and many other minor pranks or first-time violations of the law meant months or years in jail.
That’s because the judge that sentenced them was being paid to send kids to jail so that the jails could make more money. Judge Mark Ciavarella, who sentenced 5,000 kids since 2002, was one of two judges who admitted in February to taking $2.6 million in bribes from the Pennsylvania Child Care and Western Pennsylvania Child Care detention facilities. The other judge, former County Senior Judge Michael Conahan, recommended shutting down the county-run (non-profit) jail in 2002 and approving government contracts with the for-profit jails. Both judges are now no longer allowed to practice law and are facing seven years in prison.
For kids who had to serve time in the detention centers, however, the damage has been done. “It just makes me really question other authority figures and people thatwe’re supposed to look up to and trust,” said Jamie Quinn, who was 14 when she was sentenced to a year in one of the jails for a fight with her friend. Quinn told the news program Democracy Now! about how she was put on medication, became depressed and began cutting herself, and fell behind in school during her time in the facility.
Hundreds of families of kids who were sentenced to the detention centers are now filing a class action lawsuit against the judges.