By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!
Amy Goodman: An unprecedented case of judicial corruption is unfolding in Pennsylvania. Several hundred families have filed a class-action lawsuit against two former judges who have pleaded guilty to taking bribes in return for placing youths in privately owned jails. Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan are said to have received $2.6 million for ensuring that juvenile suspects were jailed in prisons operated by the companies Pennsylvania Child Care and a sister company, Western Pennsylvania Child Care. Some of the young people were jailed over the objections of their probation officers. An estimated 5,000 juveniles have been sentenced by Ciavarella since the scheme started in 2002.
In addition to the jailing of the youths, the judges also admitted to helping "facilitate" the construction of private jails. The U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Martin Carlson, unveiled the charges last month.
Martin Carlson: These payments were made to the judges, it is alleged, in return for discretionary acts by the judges favoring these businesses, acts relating to the construction, expansion, operation of these juvenile facilities and acts relating to the placement of juveniles in these facilities.
Amy Goodman: On Thursday, Judges Ciavarella and Conahan entered guilty pleas on charges of wire fraud and income tax fraud. They're currently free on a $1 million bail bond pending sentencing. Their plea agreements call for jail sentences of more than seven years. No charges have been filed against the private prisons that paid the bribes.
Pennsylvania's Supreme Court has appointed an outside judge to review all the cases tried by Ciavarella and Conahan. But the case has prompted calls for broader reforms of the juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania and nationwide.
We're joined now by two of the thousands of youths jailed by the corrupt judges. On the line with us from Scranton, Pennsylvania, eighteen-year-old Jamie Quinn is with us. She spent more than eleven months in a privately run juvenile prison camp after being sentenced by Judge Mark Ciavarella as a first-time offender. Also on the line in the nearby town of Wilkes-Barre is twenty-two-year-old Kurt Kruger. Another first-time offender, he spent more than four months in a privately run prison--juvenile prison camp after also being sentenced by Judge Ciavarella.
And joining us in a studio in Philadelphia is Bob Schwartz. He is a co-founder and executive director of the Juvenile Law Center, which helped expose the corrupt judges and is now involved in the class-action suit brought on behalf of the jailed youths' families.