Sentenced: Bribed to Send Black Kids to Jail*
By Emily Smith
In 2009, I wrote about Judge Mark A. Ciavarella, one of two Pennsylvania judges who was paid bribes by a private prison contractor to send black children to prison and keep the for-profit prisons full. Ciavarella, who once sent an African-American child to jail for three months for posting negative comments about her assistant principal on MySpace, has been sentenced to 28 years in prison. He was convicted of racketeering, and has been stripped of his state pension.
But after a federal investigation, it was discovered that Ciavarella and his colleague, Judge Michael Conahan, received more than $2.6 million from privately run youth centers owned by PA Child Care. In 2011, Ciavarella was convicted of racketeering and sentenced to 28 years in prison. He was also forced to pay $1 million in restitution.
Once Ciavarella was convicted, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned 4,000 convictions issued between 2003 and 2008 by the judge, claiming he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles – including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea. Some of the juveniles he sentenced were as young as 10-years old.
Ciavarella was convicted of 12 counts, including racketeering, money laundering, mail fraud and tax evasion. He was also ordered to repay $1.2 million in restitution.
Ciavarella appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to have his 28-year sentence overturned. On July 25, the court denied his request.
Judge Mark A. Ciavarella, 63, serves as an example of why the private prison industry can do more harm than good. Ciavarella worked alongside owners of private juvenile facilities to ensure that the prison remained occupied. The more prisoners equated to more profits for the owners of the prison.
As a result, Ciavarella would sentence offenders with small offenses to months and, at times, years behind bars. He once sentenced a teen to three months in jail for creating a MySpace page that mocked her school’s assistant principal. Ciavarella also sentenced another teen to 90 days in jail after a simple schoolyard fight.
Pennsylvania judge Michael Conahan was accused as a co-conspirator, but pleaded guilty on the charge. Since 2003, he collected more than $2 million from PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centers.