Former Pennsylvania state judge Michael Conahan was sentenced last Friday to 210 months in prison for his involvement in a scandal to enrich private prison corporations by sentencing juvenile pranksters and other extremely minor offenders to be incarcerated in a corporate-run facility:
Michael Conahan, a former jurist in Luzerne County, was sentenced on Friday to 210 months in custody by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Edwin M. Kosik II. Conahan was also ordered to pay $874,000 in restitution. [...] As Main Justice reported in August, Ciavarella, former president judge of the Court of Common Pleas and former judge of the Juvenile Court for Luzerne County, was sentenced to 28 years in prison and ordered to make restitution of $965,930. [...]
Conahan’s role in the “cash for kids” scheme was to order the closing of a county-run detention center, clearing the way for Ciavarella, once known as a strict “law and order” judge, to send young offenders to private facilities. This arrangement worked out well for Ciavarella and Conahan, as well as the builder of the facilities and a developer, who pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
The arrangement didn’t work out so well for the young offenders, some of them sent away for offenses that were little more than pranks and would have merited probation, or perhaps just scoldings, if the judges had tried to live up to their oaths.
Sadly, this kind of behavior by the private prisons industry is not at all surprising. The industry spent millions in lobbying dollars to push harsh criminal penalties and longer sentences in order to maximize their own profitability. Leading lawmakers like Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) each supported major prison privatization plans after receiving tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the industry. Indeed, the number of prisoners incarcerated in corporate-run facilities grew by 37 percent during a seven-year period when their lobbying efforts also grew by 165 percent.
Nevertheless, the willingness of two judges to simply trade away their judicial oaths to benefit a corporation’s bottom line is truly shocking.