(NaturalNews) A former county judge from Pennsylvania has been sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for reportedly abusing the criminal justice system by illegally jailing thousands of innocent children for cash. Mark Ciavarella Jr. was recently found guilty of accepting $1 million in bribes from the builders of two private juvenile detention centers in Luzerne County, which profited heavily from the many false convictions that filled its cells with innocent kids.
Referred to in the media as “kids for cash,” the scheme reportedly involved both Ciavarella and fellow Judge Michael Conahan agreeing to take kickbacks for funneling children into the two facilities. According to Philly.com, the pair accepted a $2 million sum from the owners of the private prisons back in 2002 and suddenly began tossing children left and right into the prison system for minor infractions that would have previously been dismissed.
“The charges, in many instances, were minor: classroom pranks, a fight between students, profanity,” writes Steven Rea for Philly.com. “But the sentencing was severe. Some middle schoolers and high-school students would serve years.”
Hillary Transue was one such victim of the “kids for cash” scheme who was jailed for drawing a goofy picture of her school’s assistant principal. During an interview with NBC News, Hillary explained that she was originally sentenced to three months at the detention center, which was later shortened to a month, and also sent away to a remote wilderness camp for four weeks of reeducation.
“I was so insulted,” Hillary lamented. “[My] reputation… was destroyed. I came back to school and everyone was like, ‘Oh, she’s been locked up,’ ‘she’s a bad kid,’ or ‘she’s stupid,’ and I felt so disgraced for a while, like, ‘what do people think of me now?'”
Others, like 22-year-old Kurt Kruger, were similarly taken advantage of by the two corrupt judges. Kurt says he was falsely accused of acting as a lookout while his friend stole less than $200 worth of DVDs from a local Wal-Mart store. After serving a three-day sentence at one of the detention centers, Kurt was sent away to wilderness camp for four months.
“Never in a million years did I think that I would actually get sent away,” he is quoted as telling NBC News. “I was completely destroyed. I got a raw deal, and yeah, it’s not fair. But now it’s 100 times bigger than me.”
Civarella and Conahan are being accused not only of accepting the initial bribes to jail children like Hillary and Kurt but also of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the owners of the two private facilities, PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care, in the years that followed. Though he pleaded not guilty, Civarella was ultimately convicted on 12 counts, including racketeering and conspiracy, while being acquitted of extortion.
Conahan, on the other hand, pleaded guilty to his charges and is now serving more than 17 years in federal prison for his role in the scandal.
Meanwhile, Robert K. Mericle, the developer behind “kids for cash,” has had his sentencing day postponed from February 26, as the federal judge presiding over his case investigates whether or not Mericle committed additional crimes during the time between his trial and sentencing, which would be a violation of his plea agreement.
Following his initial sentence, Ciavarella has also since been ordered to repay his former detainees for violating their civil rights. Philly.com explains that about 2,500 plaintiffs in the case can expect to collect damages from Ciavarella, which are soon to be determined.
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