Even in these days of austerity, savage budget cuts, voter suppression efforts, radical gerrymandering, and favors from elected officials to their cronies, some stories still can shock our sensibilities. This is one. Out of sight of ordinary Americans, our criminal justice system has morphed into a cruel, for-profit labyrinth of privately owned prisons where souls are warehoused around the country for money. The poorer the treatment, the more the profit for companies like Corrections Corporation of America who have been buying up state owned prisons and privatizing our criminal justice system. As we’ve seen in other privatization schemes, delegation of society’s responsibilities to for-profit corporations, is not only morally indefensible, it’s stupid. Tax money gets funneled off in profits, while people suffer. I mean really suffer.
This story is about real suffering, and real corruption in some who administer our justice system; lives were wrecked while corrupt politicians and private corporations profited from this corruption. If there is any good in this story, the 2 guilty judges are now sitting in those prisons, caught red handed. In a new book called Kids for Cash, investigative journalist William Ecenbarger chronicles the story of two corrupt Pennsylvania judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, who sentenced children, some as young as 11 years old, to a private prison for kickbacks. One child was in jail for 7 years for allegedly throwing a piece of steak at her mother’s boyfriend. Ciavarella and Conahan originally pled guilty to taking $2.8 million from owners of a new juvenile detention center, but denied wrongdoing. The presiding federal judge, Edwin M. Kosak, then rejected the plea bargain. A grand jury returned a 48 count indictment, and both former judges were convicted in 2011 of racketeering and money laundering as well as other charges. Ciaveralla got 28 years and Conahan got 17 for fraud and racketeering.
The story, though, is the destroyed lives of thousands of small children in Luzerne County Pennyslvania from 2003 to 2008 whose civil rights and very lives were violated by the very officials who are charged with protecting those rights. How can it be that this kind of willful disregard for human life happen in the first place, much less continue for 5 years? It is one of those stories that defy belief.
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