Two Pennsylvania judges convicted of deliberately sending children to for-profit prisons in exchange for kickbacks have been ordered to pay over $200 million to plaintiffs in a scandal that rocked the legal and judicial world. The $106 million in compensatory damages U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner awarded, was calculated on a $1000 a day wrongful detention “base rate,” for each plaintiff.
Conner wrote in his decision that Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan inflicted “unspeakable physical and emotional trauma” on children and adolescents.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner awarded $106M in compensatory damages and $100M in punitive damages to nearly 300 plaintiffs in a long-running civil suit against the judges in what came to be known as the kids-for-cash scandal.
— Marc Levy (@timelywriter) August 17, 2022
72-year-old Mark Ciavarella was convicted by a Scranton jury on 12 federal counts including racketeering, money laundering, and conspiracy in 2011 for allegedly taking nearly $3 million in bribes – along with co-defendant Judge Conahan – after closing a juvenile detention center run by the county and re-routing kids to the for-profit PA Child Care, and Western PA Child Care.
Children as young as eight years old were shackled and remanded to custody after being sentenced by the judges, and many were taken away without getting to say goodbye to their parents. One plaintiff testified that Judge Ciavarella has “ruined my life.” “I feel I was just sold out for no reason. Like everybody just stood in line to be sold,” said another, The Associated Press reported.
“Ciavarella and Conahan abandoned their oath and breached the public trust,” Conner wrote Tuesday in his explanation of the judgment. “Their cruel and despicable actions victimized a vulnerable population of young people, many of whom were suffering from emotional issues and mental health concerns.”
Several of the children — originally a part of the civil suit that began in 2009 — have fallen victim to overdose and suicide. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out nearly 4000 juvenile convictions after the so-called “kids-for-cash” scheme was discovered.
Sentenced to 28 years in prison, 72-year-old Mark Ciavarella could be released in 2035. His co-defendant, Michael Conahan (70), was released to home confinement in 2020 due to coronavirus concerns, with six years left on his 17 years sentence.
Though it’s unlikely the plaintiffs will see anywhere near the awarded amount, an attorney for the victims, Marsha Levick, praised the judge’s decision “It’s a huge victory.”
Original reporting by Michael Rubinkam at The Associated Press.
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