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Two US judges sent 2,000 young children to jail for over $2 million in bribes

Back in 2009, two former State Governors from Pennsylvania were charged with lengthy prison sentences after it was revealed that they orchestrated one of the most heartbreaking scandals ever seen within the US Justice System.

Mark Ciavarella, 72, and Michael Conahan, 70, shut down a county-run juvenile detention centre during that same year, sending over 2,300 children to for-profit prisons instead. In return, they received over $2.8 million in illegal payments from the builder and co-owner of two jails. 

According to NBC News, children as young as eight were sent to PA Child Care and its sister facility, Western PA Child Care. The fact that the majority of these children were either first-time offenders or had been convicted for minor crimes such as petty theft or jaywalking did not seem to bother the two men one bit.

The judges had ordered all of the youths to be immediately handcuffed and escorted to the jails without even giving them an opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones. Thankfully, since the ‘kids-for-cash’ scheme was uncovered, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court officially threw out over 4,000 juvenile convictions.

Since Ciavarella and Conahan were convicted, an extensive lawsuit involving over 300 plaintiffs has dragged on. Following years of emotional testimony from a number of the victims involved in this case, a judgement was finally enforced in regards to the civil suit.

As stated by Metro, US District Judge Christopher Conner has granted $106 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages to the victims of these inexcusable crimes.

However, it remains unclear whether or not the plaintiffs will actually see any of the money that has been awarded to them. The Guardian has reported that chief counsel of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Centre and a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Marsha Levick, can’t imagine that there is any tangible money out there.

During the final judgement, Judge Connor expressed his anger, stating: “Ciavarella and Conahan abandoned their oath and breached the public trust. Their cruel and despicable actions victimised a vulnerable population of young people, many of whom were suffering from emotional issues and mental health concerns.”

Ciavarella is still currently serving his 28-year prison sentence. Conahan, on the other hand, was sentenced to only 17 years, and since 2020, has been completing this stretch in home confinement—having been released from prison during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While there is still much to be addressed in this case—particularly the financial damages that have yet to be awarded—we hope this final judgement can help to bring a form of closure for all of the victims involved in this serious injustice.