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Here Come 'Da Judge.
February 11, 2009 2:48 PM   Subscribe

On January 26th. two Pennsylvania judges were charged with taking $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care. The judges are scheduled to plead guilty to fraud tomorrow in federal court."Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses." The judges are also accussed of helping the two firms "attain nearly $30 million in county contracts." A preliminary audit [PDF] of the companies has also turned up questionable expenses billed to the state. College basketball tickets, fishing trips and a $3,500 suit are among $1.26 million in expenses under scrutiny.
"Among the offenders were teenagers who were locked up for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing a prank note and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many had never been in trouble before. Some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it.

Many appeared without lawyers, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 ruling [In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1] that children have a constitutional right to counsel."
Oh, and the owner of the detention centers is now claiming he was the victim of an extortion scheme perpetrated by the judges.
posted by ericb (56 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
So long, USA. We hardly new ya.
posted by No Robots at 2:58 PM on February 11, 2009


I was just reading about this case. It's unbelievable and furthers and deepens my opposition to private prisons. Why would society ever want actors whose profit model depends on increased incarceration (and for juveniles nonetheless). Even when they're not directly bribing judges, these companies benefit when there are harsh mandatory minimums, disproportionate sentences for petty drug crimes, and bizarre and inflexibly three-strikes laws. Not only would these companies lobby to make our criminal laws more inflexible, but they'd oppose after-school programs, education funding, and any form of a social safety net that might reduce crime. We're literally funding Corporations whose mindset is to the right of Ebeneezer Scrooge who then turn around and have a deep impact on our public policy. And that's the legitimate stuff they do, let's not ignore the incredible abuses they perpetuate within their walls. It's time to close private prisons and shut these bastards down.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:00 PM on February 11, 2009 [44 favorites]


Holy cow. This is just insane.
posted by fusinski at 3:00 PM on February 11, 2009


*accused*
posted by ericb at 3:00 PM on February 11, 2009


In addition to some typos, I forgot to mention the role that democratically elected judges play in this process. Even if they weren't bribing these judges, the role the prisons could play in donating money to the electoral process is yet another reason why we need to seriously reconsider this practice.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:02 PM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Normally I'd say tar and feathers, followed by being ridden out of town on a rail, would be cruel and unusual punishments. However in this case I'd say they're somewhere between appropriate and too light of a sentence.
posted by mullingitover at 3:03 PM on February 11, 2009


Prison is too good for "people" like those two "judges." I have a very hard time believing that the corruption was limited to those two, though.
posted by MegoSteve at 3:05 PM on February 11, 2009


ericb: *accused*

Even if they weren't bribed, their sentencing practices are in themselves criminal.
posted by No Robots at 3:07 PM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's unbelievable and furthers and deepens my opposition to private prisons.

In related news:
"Corrections Corporation of America (NYSE: CXW)...the nation's largest provider of corrections management services to government agencies, announced [yesterday] its financial results for the fourth quarter and year ended December 31, 2008."
posted by ericb at 3:07 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd say this is unbelievable, but actually it sounds a lot like something off an episode of The Wire.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:08 PM on February 11, 2009


ericb: *accused* Even if they weren't bribed, their sentencing practices are in themselves criminal.

I was merely correcting my improper spelling (accussed [sic]) of the word (accused) in the FPP.
posted by ericb at 3:09 PM on February 11, 2009


They were reaching for their tasers when they sentenced those kids unfairly. It's all a horrible accident.
posted by stavrogin at 3:11 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


No Robots: So long, USA. We hardly new ya.

Not to be touchy, but as someone who works within the juvenile probation system of Denver and who's met a number of the judges who serve that district, if every judge in the US were like the two judges described in the articles above, well, let's just say there wouldn't be many judges left alive on this continent.

The United States, for those who aren't familiar with it, has, more than almost any other country I know of, dramatic complexity and diversity in the way that each local government handles itself and its tasks. Things here in Denver are vastly different from things in, say, New Orleans; and things there are completely different from things in Pennsylvania. There are varying levels of corruption all over; in some places, the right thing happens most of the time, whereas other places are horribly corrupt.

In that vein: they should send these two judges to a juvenile prison for a good long time so that they can see how it feels.
posted by koeselitz at 3:13 PM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Child slavery just makes good fiscal sense.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:13 PM on February 11, 2009


Sorry, dude. Acussed, as in accursed, is about right anyway!
posted by No Robots at 3:13 PM on February 11, 2009


Thanks, koeselitz. I do feel a bit better knowing that this is a heinous exception. Still, private prisons?
posted by No Robots at 3:19 PM on February 11, 2009


I'll speak up for the Judges I work with here in Washtenaw County, Michigan. I've worked with every Juvenile Judge on the bench for the past 30 years. Every one of them have been dedicated to the well being of the youth that come before them.

The other end of the spectrum from these judges mentioned here, is Judge Francis O'Brien who sat on the Juvenile bench for many, many years. His crowning achievement was to create, thorugh private donations, a program here in this county that allowed him to maintain young people in their homes as opposed to sending them off to placement. This was back in the early '70's when alternative education and day treatment programs for adjudicated youth was a very new concept.

Like koeselitz, I like to think these are the exception and not the rule.

I am NOT a court employee.
posted by HuronBob at 3:26 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why would society ever want actors whose profit model depends on increased incarceration (and for juveniles nonetheless).

Thisthisthisthisthis.
posted by rtha at 3:34 PM on February 11, 2009


I can't even figure out how to express how angry this makes me. It's wrong on a level that is so basic and so...objective... that I find it baffling beyond expression that anyone could hear "Hey, here's some money. In exchange, jail some children." and not respond with a punch in the mouth. This is...

...I just can't express it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:37 PM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well Koeselitz, I wonder what Magistrate Janski and Judge Ashby would say about this? The pendulum can swing both way in justice I suppose, tisk tisk.
posted by Viomeda at 3:45 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty: I can't even figure out how to express how angry this makes me.

I'm feeling the same way. It's just utterly ridiculous.

This kind of corruption can't even really be called corruption; I have a hard time thinking of a worse crime than looking a kid who's in a vulnerable place, who might not know which way to go at the moment, and lying to their face in such a way as to lock them up for a ridiculous amount of time. The Bernard Madoffs who take rich peoples' money, the Rod Blagojeviches who demand kickbacks from politicians who want cream jobs, can't hold a candle to people who take money for locking up kids who don't deserve it.

The worst part is, I can imagine these judges justifying it to themselves. I can imagine them saying to themselves every day, "ahh, these kids are really messed up. They probably deserve these sentences, anyway. I mean, look at him over there - he's going nowhere! And her - she doesn't know the difference between right and wrong! I'm doin' them a favor - they say those youth detention places are really lush places, too, so it'll be like a vacation almost."

The worst thing is, this'll have a lasting and damaging impact on the system and its ability to help kids. They can release every wrongly-detained kid; but even if that actually undid the harm to those kids, from now on every time a good judge sentences a kid to treatment with a non-profit, or sentences a kid to community service, or even tells a kid they'd better shape up for their own good, the subtext will be: "and how much are you gettin' paid to tell me that?"
posted by koeselitz at 3:54 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The biggest crime is that the people who engage in furthering the corruption that is private correctional facilities, never seem to end up having to suffer nearly as bad as the innocent and barely guilty that they incarcerated and profited from.

I can't come up with an equitable trade off right now that doesn't involve either fire or lion-pits.
posted by quin at 3:56 PM on February 11, 2009


I've never understood why we vote for judges in this state (I live in Pennsylvania). I have no idea if they are qualified, and what allen.spaulding said. The PA taxpayer gets fucked every which way. Companies under contract with the state over bill, now we get to pay for the settlement. Too bad for these kids.
posted by fixedgear at 4:01 PM on February 11, 2009


Is to too much to ask to have minimum 20-year sentencing for anyone convicted of bribing a judge? As far as I'm concerned, this kind of bribery is treason. Don't even get me started on the subject of the privatized prison industry.
posted by crapmatic at 4:06 PM on February 11, 2009


Fuck:
this shit.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 4:11 PM on February 11, 2009


Wow, you mean (at least some of) the shit that happens in The Talisman is real!?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 4:19 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The older I get, the more convinced I am that privatization movement of the last twenty or so years has been a complete and utter disaster. There are many things that just should not have a profit motive behind them, health care is one and law enforcement is another. For profit companies are always going to try to maximize profit over any other concern and if one of those other concerns is the public welfare, then we get screwed.
posted by octothorpe at 4:35 PM on February 11, 2009 [10 favorites]


Oh, man... this is one of those times when an eye-for-an-eye style punishment would be just so fucking righteous.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:40 PM on February 11, 2009


From the NYT article: The judges are scheduled to plead guilty to fraud Thursday in federal court. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years behind bars.

Sevenish years in prison for ruining hundreds or thousands of lives. Jesus Christ.

The more I think about this, the sicker I feel.
posted by rtha at 5:12 PM on February 11, 2009


At the end of the day, the legal system protects itself very effectively. These people will never see justice.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:14 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never understood why we vote for judges in this state

Who gets elected? The one the voters recognize.
Recognize from where? Advertising.
Who pays for that? Contributors.
Why? So Because the candidate has similar ideals.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:21 PM on February 11, 2009


health care is one and law enforcement is another

maybe, but they aren't really comparable -- people have more choice in health care than they do in prisons. (Sure, there are all sorts of economic limitations, but you have absolutely no control over which prison you get sent to, which seems like a pretty drastic difference to me).

Thus, in terms of priorities, I think private prisons are a far worse thing --- the only semblance of competition is for government contracts, and given the way budgeting works, I imagine the lowest bid is pretty much what matters, regardless of the quality of the prison. Especially in the current climate where so many states are having huge deficits.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:23 PM on February 11, 2009


Which brings us back to the Gitmo syndrome. If people are concerned about Gitmo's detainees being turned loose with a chip on their shoulder, what is there to make one think these juveniles will not come out of their confinement as hardened criminals? Or at least about to become hardened criminals. Maybe we can find another country willing to take them off our hands.
posted by notreally at 5:52 PM on February 11, 2009


Corruption infects the american legal system from top to bottom. I think we just need to burn the whole thing down and start over.
posted by empath at 5:52 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am not shocked that it happened. People can be shit. What is shocking is that the system failed to catch them sooner. It's checks and balances that makes America work just in case people have confused it with Cheques and Balances.
posted by srboisvert at 6:01 PM on February 11, 2009


Wow. Rehabilitation is right out for these guys (and I mean more than the judges). I'm pretty much pro-rehab, because I think people who come from troubled backgrounds can eventually turn it around. This isn't a carjacking, or graft, or even a bad temper and a tendency to resort to fisticuffs. These are people from some of the high privilege in our society who systematically burned some of the best years of various children's lives, and may have ruined some permanently.

These are people who, wherever we put them, should have responsibility over nothing with a more complex nervous system than that of a roach. And I'm thinking pretty much a life sentence, sans parole, because this sounds like pure corporate sociopathy (I suppose governmental sociopathy?)

Torture? No, sadly not. But I hope they have a long stay at a very miserable prison, and a news story is run, once a year, about how unhappy they are and how they got there.

Let's throw in a corporate death sentence for the prisons involved.
posted by adipocere at 6:40 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


my god, this is like something out of Dickens.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:44 PM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


So, how do we get rid of private prisons and the scumbags who profit from them? Or has that ship sailed?
posted by maxwelton at 7:21 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Afroblanco,

I was thinking the same thing. This needs a "Dickensian" tag. This is the free-market paradise we have to look forward to.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:43 PM on February 11, 2009


"Corrections Corporation of America (NYSE: CXW)...the nation's largest provider of corrections management services to government agencies, announced [yesterday] its financial results for the fourth quarter and year ended December 31, 2008."

That's crazy. Never looked at the numbers for these types of operations. They're doing very well. And, yes, it all comes down to profit per prisoner, and related expenses. These types of financial statements break down human misery in pure dollar amounts, trying to attract investors on the basis of how well they capitalize on acting as the punitive arm of the criminal justice system, on how well they extract the most profit out of every prisoner the government turns over to their care. They refer to the Average Compensated Occupancy rate and the Operating Margin per Compensated Man-Day (compensated, as in paid by the government). The stuff about rehab doesn't help, makes me feel like I'm being sold a bill of goods. And it reminds me that I can't ever be a pure capitalist, because the moral implications of this sort of profit-driven enterprise are difficult to swallow.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:56 PM on February 11, 2009


One boring day at the reference desk I was flipping through the Catholic Almanac. I found a category of sin in there called "Sins That Cry Out to Heaven For Vengeance." I'm not particularly religious and not at all Catholic, but that phrase stuck with me.

I think what these judges did is one of those sins.
posted by marxchivist at 8:16 PM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's not just prisons. There's an entire network of for-profit teen lock-ups that go by the name of "therapeutic boarding schools" "wilderness programs" and "boot camps" and "academies" in which the teens don't even nominally have the right to an attorney, to a definite sentence, to write letters or make phone calls without monitoring or to complain to anyone in any way because they are completely unregulated. The places are in isolated areas, fenced in and locked-- or so far in the wilderness that they might as well be.

There's an additional coterie of "educational consultants"-- many of whom take kickbacks from the schools for placements-- that make $ convincing parents to send their kids to these places for "treatment" even though they often have no real therapists on staff or if they do, the therapists have been convinced that humiliating and breaking the kids will help them.

Just today, the House Education and Labor Committee sent the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Treatment for Teens act (HR 911) to the House for a vote (it passed the house last term but needs to pass again this term and then go through Senate). This is the first bill *ever* to even attempt to regulate these programs, which hold tens of thousands of teens at any given time.

So, was I shocked to hear that some judges got in on the action? No, just shocked that they were actually caught.

The good news, however, is that the economy is killing the private residential programs, since they were heavily reliant on mortgages and refi's because they are so expensive. And hopefully, we'll cut the private prisons out of the budget, too-- like many have said, it's utterly disgraceful that anyone should profit from locking people up.

The kids who sue should get serious money-- there's a bunch of research showing that kids sent to juvenile prison have demonstrably worse outcomes than those allowed to stay home, for the exact same crimes.

I'll have another post on this and the legislation on my blog in next few days...
posted by Maias at 8:24 PM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


The bribery of a judge is just about the most universally recognizable symbol of injustice I can think of.

allen.spaulding: Why would society ever want actors whose profit model depends on increased incarceration (and for juveniles nonetheless).

You know, I completely agree, but this model thrives even without chain-gangs and private jailers. It's there every time a political campaign is run, or an agency's performance is graded, by reduction to the military logic of a body count - increased captures, increased prosecutions, increased capital punishment, zero tolerance. It feels like law enforcement, even while reducing those words to the most primitive meanings. And in a public discourse where every other matter comes secondary to keeping terrorists, perverts, and drug users shut off from an infinitely fearful society, it is the absolute meaning of law enforcement.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:25 PM on February 11, 2009


The older I get, the more convinced I am that privatization movement of the last twenty or so years has been a complete and utter disaster.

Well, d-uh.

Someone could toss up a link to the article about the jailer that was essentially starving his prisoners, because he was allowed to keep the difference between the food allowance and food costs.

The American Dream turns out to be a nightmare.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:29 PM on February 11, 2009


http://shoiryu.livejournal.com/492507.html is a LiveJournal post by a girl who was sent to one of those boot camps. It's horrifying, and her experience isn't nearly as bad as some others'.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:45 PM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


"A boy died at the place I was sent. In 2004, one of the male cadets was bitten by a brown recluse spider. The facility told him he was faking. He suffered for a week before he died. According to the reports from the case, the other male cadets were forced to drag him into the showers and out again."
posted by kid ichorous at 9:03 PM on February 11, 2009


It's there every time a political campaign is run, or an agency's performance is graded, by reduction to the military logic of a body count - increased captures, increased prosecutions, increased capital punishment, zero tolerance.

We're talking about a difference in kind and not in degree. Sure, in a society like ours where voters who think they're middle-class will increasingly vote to incarcerate large numbers of non-violent individuals for some fleeting sense of safety, yes. There are also segments of the population who are unwilling to do this and will fight for their values to be reflected by their government - it would appear that some democracies do a better job than America does on this metric.

Yet no matter how demanding the populace is of the government, how highly they value liberty, if there exist private prisons there will be a corporate entity which fights to increase the incarceration rate. Activists can campaign to change the hearts and minds of some people to change electoral outcomes. No campaign can change a corporation whose bottom line depends on the issue in question.

This is why Eisenhower was prescient in his farewell address and this is why people make the explicit analogy, referring to many of the businesses we're talking about as the prison-industrial complex. It's not just that companies which manufacture bombs will agitate for more conflicts; it's that they must and their very existence depends upon it. Allowing these companies to play any significant role in public policy will led to outcomes that are wholly inhumane and unjust. The same is true with private prisons.

You're not likely to find many people more critical of the American voter in recent years than me, but even they are not fatally incapable of change. Private prisons are and on top of it all, they're totally unnecessary.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:01 PM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seeing as how he probably plans to run for president in 2016, somebody should ask Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell what he's going to do to make sure this doesn't happen again -- and why he hasn't already given full pardons to every kid who went through these judges' courts.
posted by orthogonality at 4:45 AM on February 12, 2009


The facility told him he was faking. He suffered for a week before he died.

This doesn't sound right. If he had been bitten and died from the bite of a brown recluse, he would have had an enormous, oozing lesion that would have taken weeks (plural) to reach the fully toxic necrotic, blood-poisoning phase. I'm not saying it's impossible, but that if it were true, that would reflect some freakishly harrowing treatment by the staff.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:55 PM on February 12, 2009


It's true. The kid was shitting and pissing himself and they just hosed him off in the shower and continued to say he was faking. There was Congressional testimony about that place-- and the FBI investigated but nothing further happened. There is serious ongoing abuse there and will likely be another death. See closethayerlearningacademy.com for more.
posted by Maias at 1:51 PM on February 12, 2009


Sorry, should be closethayerlearningcenter.com
posted by Maias at 1:52 PM on February 12, 2009


Maias: It's true. The kid was shitting and pissing himself and they just hosed him off in the shower and continued to say he was faking.

CAICA claims that Roberto Reyes died of Rhabdomyolysis, which can be caused by trauma like spider or snake bites, but also by extreme physical exertion and dehydration.

allen.spaulding: Yet no matter how demanding the populace is of the government, how highly they value liberty, if there exist private prisons there will be a corporate entity which fights to increase the incarceration rate.

I'm not sure if your usage of "private prisons" includes any political organizations formed around the interests of correctional workers, but it's worth noting that unions like the CCPOA have notoriously lobbied to effect higher incarceration rates.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:35 PM on February 12, 2009


I can't believe that youth boot camps are still legal. Nobody who's done even the slightest reading about them is ignorant of the fact that they're little more than a way to outsource the beating of your children.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:28 AM on February 13, 2009


Should we require juveniles to retain counsel?</a.
posted by homunculus at 1:00 PM on February 13, 2009


Maias: It's true. The kid was shitting and pissing himself and they just hosed him off in the shower and continued to say he was faking.

CAICA claims that Roberto Reyes died of Rhabdomyolysis, which can be caused by trauma like spider or snake bites, but also by extreme physical exertion and dehydration.


I wasn't talking about the cause of death being definitely a spider bite when I said "it's true,"-- I was talking about the abuse and medical neglect which led up to Roberto Reyes' death, which is documented in far greater detail on the site I linked.

Whatever killed him-- whether abuse via over-exertion (he was seriously overweight and forced to do insane amounts of exercise) and then neglect or abuse plus spider bite plus over-exertion and then neglect-- he would not have died if the program had not abused and neglected him. In other words, presence or absence of the spider bite doesn't change the fact that Thayer is responsible for his death.
posted by Maias at 2:53 PM on February 13, 2009


Is to too much to ask to have minimum 20-year sentencing for anyone convicted of bribing a judge? As far as I'm concerned, this kind of bribery is treason. Don't even get me started on the subject of the privatized prison industry.

In a republic, the only appropriate punishment for corruption in public office is death.
posted by atrazine at 8:44 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


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