Aug 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Judges behind "kids-for-cash" scandal ordered to pay more than $200M

Robert J. Nealon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Two judges who sent children to for-profit jails and received illegal payments for doing so have been ordered to pay more than $200 million in damages, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Driving the news: Former judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan will pay $106 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages to more than 300 people who filed a civil lawsuit against them.

  • U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner held that the plaintiffs were “the tragic human casualties of a scandal of epic proportions.”
  • The judge said the punitive damage amount was chosen due to the “unspeakable physical and emotional trauma” on the children involved in the scheme.

What he said: "Ciavarella and Conahan abandoned their oath and breached the public trust," he wrote. "They conspired to close existing detention facilities and construct new ones in exchange for millions of dollars."

  • "Their cruel and despicable actions victimized a vulnerable population of young people, many of whom were suffering from emotional issues and mental health concerns," he added.

Catch up quick: The two judges decided to shut down a county-run juvenile detention center and instead send multiple children to for-profit lockup centers PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care from 2003 to 2008, the Associated Press reports.

  • While that happened, the two received $2.8 million in illegal payments from the builder and co-owner of the for-profit centers.

Background: Many of the children sent to the lockups were convicted of minor crimes with some being as young as 8, the Associated Press reports.

  • Some children were sent into detention without the chance to say goodbye to their families.
  • The Pennsylvania Supreme Court erased close to 4,000 convictions that had been issued by Ciavarella, NBC reports.

Worth noting: Ciavarella is currently serving 28 years in prison, per The Daily Beast.

  • Conahan is serving in home confinement after being released in 2020. He has already served 11 years of a 17-year sentence.
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