Children of the Torn
Several months ago, a commentary was written on the children of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, where judges sold their very freedom for private profit.
Two prominent county judges (Messrs. Mark A. Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan) allegedly made millions of dollars by sending kids to a private facility (Pennsylvania Child Care) in which they had a financial interest, as opposed to state institutions from which they would’ve received nothing.
How could such a thing happen? How could it have happened for years?
It happened because, in part, people both allowed it to happen, and they wanted it to happen.
Children were sent to juvenile joints—for months!—for playing hooky, for being late, for breaking curfew, and the like.
And most people said nothing, did nothing and some even praised this judicial example of “zero tolerance.”
One woman, Sandra Brulo, the former chief of the county’s juvenile probation department, asked about the increasing detentions, told a county commission looking into the scandal, “The judge is the final say,” adding that most folks simply didn’t want “to question the judge.” And so they didn’t, while dozens, then hundreds and then thousands of kids were sent to detention.
Nobody wanted to rock the boat.
It’s enough to say it was illegal for judges to privately profit from the juvie prison system, but the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act (the statute governing this area) made what these judges did illegal as well.
That’s because most of these transfers to detention took place without legal representation, and the code [§6337] states lawyers “must” be provided for kids, unless a parent or guardian affirmatively waives such counsel—in court. According to Brulo, in many cases, orders for detention were signed by the judges before the hearings even began!
Moreover, in 1966, in Kent v. U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of juveniles to have counsel, just like adults.
For years, in Pennsylvania, this meant nothing.
What use is the constitution when there’s money to be made?
—prisonradio.org, November 18, 2009