It was known as the “kids-for-cash” scandal. Beginning in the early 2000s, judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan received $2.8 million in illegal kickbacks when they defunded a county-owned juvenile detention center, sending over thousands of Pennsylvania children to for-profit jails instead.
And their scheme was ruthless.
Ciavarella was known for his “zero-tolerance policy,” sending children as young as EIGHT to detention for the tiniest infractions. Many were handcuffed and sent away before they could even say goodbye to their families.
Although they were charged in 2009, in 2022, a judge awarded the now-adult victims $200 million, noting that the former judges had inflicted “unspeakable physical and emotional trauma.”
One victim testified saying, “I feel I was just sold out for no reason. Like everybody just stood in line to be sold.” And unfortunately, several have since died from overdoses and suicide.
In Pennsylvania today, Black children are removed from home and prosecuted in adult court more than white ones. Black youth represent 38% of cases in juvenile court, but 47% of those sent to a residential facility and 62% of the youths detained before a ruling is even made!
We fight every day to protect Black children. But we're also working against a criminal legal system that does NOT have the well-being of our children in mind - and never has.