A U.S. District Judge has ordered that two Pennsylvania judges are liable for $106 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages to 300 individuals for orchestrating a “kids-for-cash” scheme that saw kids being sentenced to private jails in exchange for money.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner ruled on Wednesday that the two former Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan sent young children to a for-profit jail for $2.8 million in illegal payments from the jail’s builder and co-owner.
The Associated Press reported that the judges shut down a county-run juvenile detention center.
“Ciavarella, who presided over juvenile court, pushed a zero-tolerance policy that guaranteed large numbers of kids would be sent to PA Child Care and its sister facility, Western PA Child Care,” the AP reported. “Ciavarella ordered children as young as 8 to detention, many of them first-time offenders deemed delinquent for petty theft, jaywalking, truancy, smoking on school grounds and other minor infractions.”
“The judge often ordered youths he had found delinquent to be immediately shackled, handcuffed and taken away without giving them a chance to put up a defense or even say goodbye to their families,” the report continued.
“Ciavarella and Conahan abandoned their oath and breached the public trust,” wrote Judge Conner wrote Tuesday in his decision. “Their cruel and despicable actions victimized a vulnerable population of young people, many of whom were suffering from emotional issues and mental health concerns.”
After the “cash-for-kids” scheme was exposed, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed some 4,000 juvenile convictions involving more than 2,300 children.
The victims of the scheme, who are now adults, are unlikely to see a fraction of the damages award. However, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said that the large sum will serve as a recognition for the horrendous crimes committed upon them.
“It’s a huge victory,” said Marsha Levick, co-founder and chief counsel of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center. “To have an order from a federal court that recognizes the gravity of what the judges did to these children in the midst of some of the most critical years of their childhood and development matters enormously, whether or not the money gets paid.”
Ciaravella, 72, and Conahan, 70, have been sentenced to 28 years in prison and 17 years in prison, respectively. They are unlikely to outlive their sentences.