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EDITORIAL - Criminal judges: First they took kickbacks, then they cheated teens

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Judges are supposed to be the voices of justice and wisdom, but two former Luzerne County judges instead spoke only for greed.

Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan are to be sentenced to more than seven years in prison after pleading guilty to fraud and tax charges. They took $2.6 million in kickbacks from two for-profit juvenile detention centers in exchange for sending delinquent teens to Pennsylvania Child Care in Luzerne County and Western Pennsylvania Child Care in Butler County. Taxpayers paid $255 to $314 a day for each youth assigned there.

During their own legal proceedings, the judges were represented by attorneys and had plenty of time to present their cases, something they did not afford to many of the young defendants who appeared before their bench. These men took a lot more than money in this lucrative scheme. They robbed teen-agers of fair hearings as they dispatched cases in as little as 90 seconds without providing the defendants with proper legal representation.

Besides denying the youths their rights, the judges sent some of them hundreds of miles from home to the Butler County facility, against the recommendation of juvenile professionals. In doing that, the judges completely ignored a fundamental tenet of juvenile justice. Under the state's Juvenile Act, the goal is "restorative justice," a three-pronged effort to protect the community from wrong-doers, hold offenders accountable and provide rehabilitation services so youths can return -- changed for the better -- to their homes.

One of the things that juvenile authorities know is that teens do better if they remain connected to their home communities while they are confined. When they are sent to faraway facilities, their families can't visit and their school districts have difficulty smoothing their transition when they come home.

Many of the offenders who appeared before Mr. Ciavarella and Mr. Conahan lost more than time -- they lost the best route to rehabilitation.

First published on February 19, 2009  

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