Mark Ciavarella Jr

A US judge has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for taking bribes from a prison developer after years of sending young teenagers to jail for minor crimes.

In a bitter twist of irony, former Pennsylvania judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was jailed and ordered to pay nearly $1.2 million for his part in a “kids for cash scheme”.

The scheme involved  Robert Mericle, builder of the PA and Western PA Child Care juvenile detention centres. Following an investigation, it was found that judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. had deliberately given young children and teenagers excessive and disproportionate prison sentences for relatively trivial misbehaviour such as mocking teachers, answering back and entering vacant buildings.

One of the young people sentenced by Ciavarella Jr was 15-year-old Hillary Transue, who was jailed for three months at a juvenile detention facility for mocking an assistant principal on a MySpace page.

Another teenager, 13-year-old Shane Bly, was sent to a boot camp for two weekends after being accused of trespassing in a vacant building.

Once the case against Ciavarella unfolded, special investigative panels began reviewing cases he handled from 2003 to 2008.

It was thought that he took around $1m (£617,000) in bribes. The Pennsylvania supreme court overturned about 4,000 convictions issued by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008, saying he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles, including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea.

Some children as young as 10 were imprisoned by Ciavarella -many of them first-time offenders convicted of petty theft and other minor crimes.
The judge remained defiant after his arrest, insisting the payments were legal and denying he incarcerated youths for money.
A second judge, Michael T. Conahan, used his position to shut down the county-run juvenile detention centre and redirect juvenile detainees to the private prisons. He pleaded guilty to racketeering.

Ciavarella was convicted of 12 counts that included racketeering, money laundering, mail fraud and tax evasion.

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