In reaction to an incident that has sent shock waves through the nation’s criminal justice community, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered the records expunged of hundreds of youth who were sent to privately run detention centers by two judges who received kickbacks for their sentencing the teenagers.
Judge Mark A. Ciavarella, Jr. and Judge Michael T. Conahan admitted that they sent teenagers to two detentions centers from 2003 to 2008 in exchange for payments from a private business that operated the facilities. Beginning in 2002, they shut down a facility run by the county and began sending the youth to two new detention centers run by PA Child Care and an affiliated company. It has been reported that Ciavarella sent one in four juveniles to the detention centers over a four year period when the rate in other parts of the state was one in ten. His record had been the source of complaints by youth advocacy groups.
The Supreme Court ordered that relief for the youth be provided “as expeditiously as possible.” The state’s highest court also acknowledged that some of the affected teenagers may wish to delay the expungement of their record so they can collect documents and information that can be used in pending civil lawsuits. The exact number of youth affected was not specified in the court’s order.
Ciavarella and Conahan pleaded guilty last month to wire fraud and conspiracy for taking close to $3 million in kickbacks. The two judges will serve 87 months in federal prison and will resign from the bench and be disbarred. A special master had been appointed by the State Supreme Court and found that the constitutional rights of the youth had been violated.