Times Leader/AP
Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella

PA Prisons Allegedly Bribed Judges to Sentence Kids

February 11, 2009 07:32 PM
by Christopher Coats
In the latest judicial corruption scandal, two Pennsylvania judges are charged with accepting bribes to send youth offenders to private detention centers.
Spread over two years of court cases, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan are accused of taking more than $2.6 million in payoffs to sentence minors to detention centers.

Dealing exclusively with private institutions, as Conahan had helped shutter the county-run center in 2002, the judges are alleged to have received bribes from  detention facilities that were paid by the county on a daily basis.

Though they had agreed to contracts with the county, the centers would ultimately receive payment according to the number of offenders they housed.

The high number of incarcerations, the fact that many underage offenders were presented without an attorney and the excessive punishments doled out for small, often first-time offenses raised suspicions among the local legal community.

Both judges have been removed from the bench and are expected to plead guilty.

Although the Wilkes-Barre case is exceptional for the high number and value of the bribes paid, it is hardly an isolated case on the international stage.

According to a 2007 study conducted by Transparency International, of 62 nations surveyed, 25 found that 1 in 10 households reported having paid a bride to access their court system.

Nor is Wilkes-Barre case isolated within the United States. A recent example of judicial corruption can be found in Mississippi, where Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter has been mentioned in an ongoing investigation into bribery charges arising form a dispute over legal fees.

There have been other cases in Pennsylvania, as well. Philadelphia Traffic Judge Willie Singletary was found guilty of accepting bribes from a group of bikers, who he promised preferential treatment.

The bribes were solicited at a Blessing of the Bikes event at a public park and caught on video, which was widely circulated on YouTube, as Singletary accepts about $280 in cash.

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