In Pennsylvania last month judge Mark Ciavarella, and the judge of the juvenile court Michael Conahan, pleaded guilty to having accepted $2.6m (£1.8m) from the co-owner and builder of a private prison where children aged from 10 to 17 were locked up.
The cases of up to 2,000 children put into custody by Ciavarella and Conahan over the past seven years are now being reviewed in a scandal called “kids for cash”.
One case involved 14 year old Hillary Transue, who put up a hoax MySpace page making fun of a school vice-principal she thought was too strict. What happened next was that Hillary (pictured) found herself in their courthouse. Within one minute the gavel came down and she was led away in handcuffs and sentenced to three months in prison as a ‘delinquent’. She was not allowed to present her side of the story and not told she was entitled to representation in court.
We now know the judge who jailed her was being paid a bounty by the prison company who locked her up. This sort of thing may have happened two thousand times. It seems to go back to 1999. One child was locked up for stealing a $4 jar of nutmeg, another was incarcerated for throwing a sandal at her mum and a third got six months for slapping a friend at school.
This was all part of an assembly line process of producing ‘criminals.’ After all, if you’re building nice shiny new prisons you need to fill them up. And the more ‘evildoers’ you can manufacture, the more money you can make. So the judges and the private prison company entered into a mutually beneficial arrangement where both made money, by criminalising young people.
Over the years the judges received at least $2.6m in kickbacks from the firm PA Child Care. They actually signed a contract with the firm to send teenagers into custody. Enough children would be detained to ensure the firm received more than $1m a year in public money. In late 2004 a long-term deal was secured with PACC worth about $58m. The two judges bought a condominium in Florida with the proceeds from the bribes.
Fresh from ruining thousands of young lives, Ciavarella sheds crocodile tears for his own vile conduct. “Cash for kids? It never happened. People have jumped to conclusions – I didn’t do any of these things. ‘I wanted these children to avoid becoming statistics in an adult world. That’s all it was, trying to help these kids straighten out their lives.”
One aggrieved parent hit back, remarking bitterly that Ciavarella, “was playing god. And not only was he doing that, he was getting money for it. He was betraying the trust put in him to do what is best for children.”
Now the real criminals are behind bars, is that the end of the matter? Not really. For a start nobody from PACC has been charged with any offence. After all, they were just doing what comes naturally.
The real lesson of this sorry tale is that the scandal reveals the logic of privatisation. Capitalism has an insatiable need for profit. For PACC the children were just something they handled and made money out of, just like other capitalists sell cabbages. You can either have a system that serves the public or you can have private capitalism. You can’t have both.
This article first appeared on Socialist Appeal.
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This post was written by Mick Brooks