Privatization gone bad

In Pennsylvania, judges have been getting kickbacks from the builder of a private detention. All they had to do was violate the rights of children by sending them there. And they had no problem doing so, apparently, the Guardian reports:

Less than a minute into the hearing the gavel came down. “Adjudicated delinquent!” the judge proclaimed, and sentenced her to three months in a juvenile detention centre. Hillary, who hadn’t even presented her side of the story, was handcuffed and led away. But her mother, Laurene, protested to the local law centre, setting in train a process that would uncover one of the most egregious violations of children’s rights in US legal history.

Last month the judge involved, Mark Ciavarella, and the presiding 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 detention centre where children aged from 10 to 17 were locked up.

The cases of up to 2,000 children put into custody by Ciavarella over the past seven years – including that of Transue – are now being reviewed in a billowing scandal dubbed “kids for cash”. The alleged racket has raised questions about the cosy ties between the courts and private contractors, and about the harsh treatment meted out to adolescents.

If it’s possible to have a facet of this case be even more troubling, however, it’s got to be the reaction of authorities when an advocacy organization — the Juvenile Law Center — tried to get them to do something about it. “It was not a matter of immediate public importance,” the Luverne County District Attorney wrote.

Tara Herivel, who authored “Prison Profiteers,” blames the growing emphasis on privatization.


Although juvenile crime has been on the decline for at least a decade, private youth detention is still a growth industry. It grew by about 45 percent over the past 10 years and produced an average of $33 billion in annual profit. In New Mexico, the population of juveniles in private facilities rose by a stunning 123 percent, in contrast with an overall decline in juvenile crime and public detention.

Update 3/8 – Sunday’s Phildelphia Inquirer follows up with some of the victims of the corruption.