Dividends From the Pennsylvania Railroad


Two Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, judges who were recently accused of sending defendants to privately run juvenile detention centers in exchange for bribes will serve seven years in federal prison under a plea agreement. Judges Mark Ciavarella (left) and Michael Conahan, who allegedly received $2.6 million for their help in keeping the juvenile jails full, will plead guilty to tax evasion and honest services fraud. An editorial in The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests  their real crimes were a lot worse than that (emphasis added): 

First, the judges helped the detention centers land a county contract worth $58 million. Then their alleged scheme was to guarantee the operators a steady income by detaining juveniles, often on petty stuff.

Many of the kids were railroaded, according to allegations lodged with the state Supreme Court last year by the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, an advocacy group.

In asking the court to intervene in April, the law center cited hundreds of examples where teens accused of minor mischief were pressured to waive their right to lawyers, and then shipped to a detention center.

One teen was given a 90-day sentence for having parodied a school administrator online. Such unwarranted detentions left "both children and parents feeling bewildered, violated and traumatized," center lawyers said.

I grew up in Wilkes-Barre and used to cover Luzerne County's government for The Times Leader, so I'm not surprised at the venality of local officials there, but Ciavarella and Conahan have taken it to a whole new level. Disappointingly, they do not have Dan Flood–style waxed moustaches to twirl as they gleefully send errant orphans off to jail in exchange for big bags of money marked with dollar signs.

Information about the Juvenile Law Center's efforts on behalf of the judges' victims here.

[Thanks to Tom Hynes for the tip.]