Report and Recommendations Issued in "Kids for Cash" Scandal
Gray, Cynthia, Judicature
On May 27, 2010, the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice released a report with over 40 recommendations. The impetus for the Commission was the so-called "Kids for Cash" scandal first revealed in January 2009, when the U.S. Attorney filed a criminal information charging Luzerne County President Judge Mark Ciavarella and his predecessor Judge Michael Conahan with taking over $2.5 million in payoffs between June 2000 and January 2007 for helping a private juvenile detention center earn millions from county contracts.
The Interbranch Commission had 1 1 members, four appointed by the Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, three by the governor, and four by leaders of the House and Senate. It held 1 1 days of public hearings between October 2009 and August 2010 and took testimony from more than 60 witnesses. The Commission concluded that there was "essentially . . . a collapse of the rule of law" in the Luzerne County juvenile court.
In 2002, Conahan, in his capacity as president judge, had signed a placement guara ? tee agree ment with PA Child Care, a for-profit juvenile detention facility, and took official action to remove funding from the county court budget for die county-run juvenile detention facility. In January, 2003, Conahan and Ciavarella received their first payment from the owner and building of the private facility- a $997,000 "broker's fee."
Even before 2002, however, beginning when he first became juvenile judge in 1996, Ciavarella had adopted a zero tolerance policy toward juvenile crime in the schools (which met with the approval of school authorities and the community) and routinely failed to properly effectuate juveniles' right to counsel, resulting in a disproportionately high detention rate compared to the rest of the state. This "penchant for confinement arguably created the opportunity for profit," the Commission found, "but it is clear that the opportunity for profit did not create the penchant for confinement."
Emphasizing that Ciavarella's practices were not secret, the Commission found that "the Luzerne County juvenile justice scandal cannot be understood as simply the isolated acts of former judges Conahan and Ciavarella." The Commission concluded there was "a breakdown by all three branches of government, at both the county and state level, in meeting their shared and independent responsibilities."
Whether because of intimidation. …