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Kids-for-Cash judges hit with $206 million fine – Reuters

Two ex-Pennsylvania lawyers who took bribes to send children to for-profit prisons have been ordered to pay their victims

Two former US judges have been ordered to pay $206 million in civil damages for taking bribes from a for-profit prison builder to send hundreds of children to its prisons.

Ex-Pennsylvania lawyers Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan must pay more than $106 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages to nearly 300 of their victims, according to a ruling released Wednesday by a U.S. District Court in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Both men had previous convictions on criminal charges in connection with their scheme, although Conahan was released at home last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the so-called “children for money” scandal, Ciavarella and Conahan shut down a county-run juvenile detention center and received $2.8 million in kickbacks from the developer of two for-profit prisons, PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care. According to testimony in the civil trial, judges sent children as young as 8 to jails, in many cases for offenses as minor as jaywalking or smoking on school grounds.

Ciavarella often ordered that the children be immediately chained up and taken away without giving them a chance to speak up for themselves or say goodbye to their families, the Associated Press reported. Some of the complainants, who are now adults, testified that they suffered long-term effects from their wrongful incarceration, including one who said: “I feel like I’ve been sold for no reason, like everyone is lining up to be sold.”

Some of the childhood victims who were plaintiffs in the long-running lawsuit when it was filed in 2009 have since died of suicide or drug overdose. About 4,000 juvenile convictions were overturned by the state after the scheme came to light.

Conner said the two former judges breached the public trust. “Their cruel and despicable actions victimized a vulnerable population of young people, many of whom suffered from emotional problems and mental health issues.”

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