"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Profit and the Imprisonment of Children

Our most recent passing era will be remembered as a time when it was common practice for elected and appointed government officials to use government to destroy government, i. e., to auction off public services to private companies willing to grease the palms of the public officials who have betrayed the public trust for the purposes of self-aggrandizement, ideology, or both.

Luzerne County, Pennslyvania has one public defender available for youth cases, even though the County processes 1,200 cases per year. And when youthful defendants, mostly poor, are found guilty, as they were almost certainly were in the courts of Judge Ciavarella or Judge Conahan, they were shunted off to corporate facilities like PA Childcare and Western PA Chidcare (both LLCs) to do their time, while they fell further and further behind their classmates back home in school. Saving the taxpayers money, you say? Not quite. A state audit found in 2005 that these outfits were charging the highest per diem in the Commonwealth of Pennslyvania, having struck a deal in 2005 for $58,000,000 to warehouse children who have been rounded up to fill the beds of these facilities, while filling the pockets of those who sent them there. From the NY Times:

. . . .The two judges, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan, pleaded guilty in Federal District Court in Scranton, Pa., to wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years in prison.

As many as 5,000 juveniles are believed to have appeared before Judge Ciavarella while the kickback scheme was going on. The judges are currently free on an unsecured $1 million bond, and they have surrendered their passports and a condominium in Florida. Neither is allowed out of the state without permission.

State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf, a Republican from Montgomery County who is the chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee, said he intended to hold a hearing to find ways to help the children and their families once the federal investigation was done. A spokesman in Mr. Greenleaf’s office said one option was to provide money from the crime victims compensation fund.

“Money is important, but my son’s life has already been completely destroyed,” said Ruby Cherise Uca, whose son, Chad, 18, was sentenced to three months of detention by Judge Ciavarella in 2005, when Chad was in eighth grade.

Chad, who had no prior offenses, was charged with simple assault after shoving a boy at school and causing him to cut his head on a locker. Chad returned to school his freshman year, but he was so far behind in classes and so stigmatized by his teachers and peers, his mother said, that he soon dropped out.

Federal investigators remained silent Friday about whether they would file charges against the operators of the detention centers or who else they were considering as possible conspirators. . . . .

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:53 PM

    I thought of you immediately when I read this story. I often shake my head and cluck at your predictable outrage over the slightest whiff of profit motive in the provision of a public service -- I think there can be public/private partnerships that work -- but when I read this story, I thought, "well, Horn's certainly got a case in point here..."