Two disgraced former judges were ordered by a U.S. District Judge to pay $206 million to hundreds of families whose children were victimized by their scheme to send kids to for-profit jails for minor offenses to receive kickbacks.
Nearly 300 people were awarded $100 million in punitive damages and $106 million in compensatory damages in a suit that’s become known as the “kids for cash” scandal, according to AP. Judge Christopher Conner ruled on the case.
Former Pennsylvania judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were convicted of charges related to accepting illegal payments from the co-owner and builder of two for-profit private juvenile jails after shutting down a county-run detention center.
Ciavarella was a juvenile court judge with a zero-tolerance policy, resulting in more kids being sent to the for-profit Pennsylvania Child Care and Western Pennsylvania Child Care. He incarcerated kids as young as 8 years old for violations like truancy, petty theft and jaywalking, according to AP.
In 2011, a jury found Ciavarella guilty of racketeering for receiving a $1 million kickback from builder Robert Mericle.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed 4,000 juvenile convictions involving over 2,300 kids in the state after the scheme was revealed.
Conahan, 70, is serving more than 17 years but was released from prison in 2020 into home confinement over pandemic concerns. Ciavarella, 72, is serving 28 years in a Kentucky prison.
Judge Conner awarded plaintiffs after hearing testimony last year from 282 people who were seen in Luzerne County juvenile court between 2003 and 2008, and 32 parents.
The builder and owner of the lockups and their companies had their cases settled years ago in compensation amounting to about $25 million, according to AP. But this week’s ruling is another step toward healing for families affected by the scandal.
“Ciavarella and Conahan abandoned their oath and breached the public trust,” Conner wrote in his explanation of the judgment. “Their cruel and despicable actions victimized a vulnerable population of young people, many of whom were suffering from emotional issues and mental health concerns.”
Conner noted in his ruling that several of the youth victimized during their childhoods who were part of the lawsuit since the beginning in 2009 were now dead from either suicide or overdoses.
The judge determined the compensatory damages by awarding each plaintiff a base rate of $1,000 for each day of unlawful detention, adjusting the amounts on a case-by-case basis.