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Judge Sentenced to 28 Years for Selling Kids to the Prison System (2013) (blacknews.com)
184 points by emhart on Aug 25, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 102 comments

What really really bugs me about this case is how little money he got. I mean, come on. Judges earn a pretty good living, this guy sold his soul and thousands of real people for a bit over a million. Incredible. I can see how some people might be tempted to do something as bad as this for 100's of millions (they obviously still should not do it, it is just as bad in every other way). But a mere million dollars for the lives of thousands of people? That makes a human life worth < $1000 per head to this judge.

I have similar feelings about how cheap politicians are to bribe.

What really bugs me is that we're all focusing on the judge, not about the fact that there are for-profit prisons. Is that not going to lead other judges to the same corruption over time?

To me, the idea of a for-profit prison is just backwards, there should never be an incentive for them to incarcerate innocent people, and if it is that is a symptom that the system is broken.

Oh, absolutely. But this case is against a judge, someone normally beyond suspicion. If a judge says 'a' and you say 'b' it's 'a'. For a person in a position like that abuse trust at this scale is absolutely incredible (well, no longer incredible I guess, it happened).

The US prison system is rotten to the core, there is no doubt about it but this is one is beyond what I ever considered possible, even in the US system as it is today.

I'm trying to imagine how the approach would have gone. Hey Judge, how about I give you some money if you send more inmates (children maybe?) my way?

The expected answer is "How about you end up in jail yourself", not a discussion of terms.

> (...) he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles – including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea

How come a judge can do stuff like this, without anyone else noticing/care? One would think a punishment so serious as prison would involve more than one pair of eyes.

Honestly, this article is a bad (also, old) summary of the story. You'll get better information from the Wikipedia site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Ciavarella

Long story short: he was sentencing them to juvenile detention, not adult prison. The bar is lower for juvenile detention.

> he was sentencing them to juvenile detention, not adult prison. The bar is lower for juvenile detention.

I read that as "He sentenced them to juvenile detention where threshold for detection in case of abuse is lower."

As a hacker/engineer, ask yourself this: if a (trusted third) party is getting kickbacks for providing false positives, what do you call that?

Why is the bar lower for juvenile detention?

The 1 million was what was proven in court. We do not know how much money him and his family got that could not be proven. E.g. his daughter could work as consultant in company X that is controlled by someone who owns the prisons. etc.

"But a mere million dollars for the lives of thousands of people? That makes a human life worth < $1000 per head to this judge."

I expect he was telling himself that these kids weren't great kids to begin with, and probably basically deserved to be in juvie anyway.

(I'm not sure that makes it better, and it's atrocious regardless, but it is a slightly different perspective).

where did you get that expectation from?

My understanding, imperfect as it is, of human nature.

Maybe the judge knew what they could afford for brides while staying profitable... but anyways $1 million or $200 millions is not a big difference for doing something like this unless all you think about is money.

It's not that a human life was worth < $1000 to him but more that those who bribed him could spend at least that value per person as "acquisition" costs.

I really don't see the difference. He set the price they paid it, or they offered, he accepted. Same thing.

"Ciavarella pleaded guilty on February 13, 2009, pursuant to a plea agreement, to federal charges of honest services fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion in connection with receiving $2.6 million in kickbacks from Robert Powell and Robert Mericle, the co-owner and builder respectively, of two private, for-profit juvenile facilities. In exchange for these kickbacks, Ciavarella sentenced children to extended stays in juvenile detention for offenses as minimal as mocking a principal on Myspace, trespassing in a vacant building, and shoplifting DVDs from Wal-mart.[6] More specifically, the crimes charged were: conspiracy to deprive the public of the "intangible right of honest services", or corruption, and conspiracy to defraud the United States by failing to report income to the Internal Revenue Service.[7] Ciavarella tendered his resignation to Governor Ed Rendell on January 23, 2009, prior to official publication of the charges.[2]

The plea agreement[8] called for Ciavarella to serve up to seven years in prison, pay fines and restitution, and accept responsibility for the crimes.[9] However, Ciavarella has denied that there was a connection between the juvenile sentences he rendered and the kickbacks he received.[10][11] In part because of this denial, on July 30, 2009, Judge Edwin M. Kosik of Federal District Court in Scranton, Pennsylvania rejected the plea agreement. He ruled that Ciavarella had continued to deny that there was a ‘quid pro quo’ between his receipt of money and his jailing of juveniles, instead characterizing the money as a "finder’s fee" despite what Judge Kosik felt was the weight of the government's evidence.[12] Attorneys for the two judges brought a motion requesting reconsideration of the judge's rejection of the plea agreement.[13] The motion was denied on August 24, and Ciavarella and Conahan withdrew their guilty pleas, resulting in the case going to trial.[14]

On September 9, 2009, a federal grand jury in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania returned a 48 count indictment against Ciavarella and Conahan,[15] which includes racketeering, fraud, money laundering, extortion, bribery, and federal tax violations. Both judges were arraigned on the charges on September 15, 2009.[16][17] Ciavarella and Conahan entered pleas of not guilty to the 48 count indictment and remained free on one million dollar bail, despite federal prosecutors contentions that their bail should be raised since they now faced the possibility of substantially more prison time and that there was evidence of their attempts to shield assets.[18]

On February 18, 2011, a jury in federal court found Ciavarella guilty of racketeering. This charge stemmed from Ciavarella accepting $997,000 in illegal payments from Robert Mericle, the real estate developer of PA Child Care, and attorney Robert Powell, a co-owner of the facility. Ciavarella was also on trial for 38 other counts including accepting numerous payments from Mericle and Powell as well as tax evasion.[19]

On August 11, 2011, Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison. On May 24, 2013, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated one count of the indictment against Ciavarella, but upheld all other charges, as well as his sentence.[20] The Third Circuit refused to reconsider on July 24th, 2013. Ciavarella can still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it rarely accepts cases.[21] With good behavior, he could be released in less than 24 years, when he would be 85.[22] Ciavarella, inmate number 15008-067, is serving his sentence at Federal Correctional Institution, Pekin in Pekin, Illinois. His earliest projected release date is December 30, 2035."

From Wikipedia.

Any idea what happened to Mericle?

Mericle got 1 year, and Powell (the lawyer acting as an intermediary) got 18 months. Both received lighter sentences for cooperating, which seems a little south of justice to me.



Wow, that's surprisingly low.

as a ùaybe futur lobbyist, i will say that it's more the feeling and the act that count more that the sum. The feeling of power and f the system or abuse the system, or maybe he liked more the idea of sending people to jail more than the money. Sade in one of his book make a story where a judge made things in a brothel with a windows that have a see on the execution. I think that you have to think about the feelings more than the sum of money.


Fiction is not reality, this judge was almost certainly motivated primarily by money.

There must be monentary incentives somewhere else too, otherwise the US wouldn't lead the world on the list of imprisoned population: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarcerat... (juveniles not in the list)

Off the top of my head:

    - prisons create high paying jobs in rural areas
    - private prison companies like Vanguard are quite lucrative (and Vanguard just happens to have former Vice Pres. Cheney as a major investor)
    - prison labor is drastically cheaper than minimum wage
There's more. Here's a decent article on the topic from Vice: http://www.vice.com/read/whos-getting-rich-off-the-prison-in...

There's certainly more monetary incentives. Some private prisons have an agreement with a state where the state guarantees a certain numberof inmates. So even if crime were to stop, the state would be legally requires to fill up those prisons. So there's very little incentive to prevent crime, and a lot to lock people up for fairly minor offenses (like owning a small amount of pot).

Police departments are also often rewarded based on how many people they get locked up, rather than how much they reduce crime. So there's little incentive to pursue hard-to-prove crimes (like rape) and lots of incentive to lock people up for minor but easy to prove charges, or even charges for which it's easy to fake evidence.

Or to put it in another way: If you allow perverse incentives in the justice system, you get perverted justice.

"a state where the state guarantees a certain numberof inmates."

Wow, I'm shocked. Any examples for this?


And to pick a choice quote from the text:

Arizona is one of four states (along with Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisiana) in which state governments are bound to contracts guaranteeing a 95%-100% occupancy in facilities leased by private prisons.

EDIT: typofix

"state where the state guarantees a certain numberof inmates."

That does not sound true at all. Source?

It isn't untrue but they are mischaracterizing it.

The current agreements state that a certain % of the prison will be occupied and the state will pay $x/prisoner/day.

Now what you have to consider is two things; first "what happens if the % isn't met?" simply put the state pays for "virtual prisoners" between the actual % and the agreed upon % (e.g. 100 non-existent prisoners will be paid for as if they existed).

So it isn't like the state is going to go roaming the streets and picking up random people for littering just to meet the % just because the contract says to. It still ultimately saves the state money to be below capacity as they can sit right at the agreed upon lower % indefinitely (plus other costs for prisoners are still met by the state: like transportation, medical, and so on).

Do I think private prisons try to promote laws which lock more people up? Yes, absolutely I do. But I don't think the % minimums within private prison contracts are a massive problem, and are only there to give both the state and the private prison more consistent financial obligations. It actually /looks/ worse than it is in this specific case.

However the private prison industry is a blight on the US and the US legal system is pretty well broken at this stage (e.g. innocent people pleading guilty because they cannot get real representation and it would bankrupt them, plea deals which are immoral, prisoners testifying against each other for reduced sentences (which incentivise lying, politics playing too large a role, money playing too large a role, mass corruption at every stage, etc).

Now what you have to consider is two things; first "what happens if the % isn't met?" simply put the state pays for "virtual prisoners" between the actual % and the agreed upon % (e.g. 100 non-existent prisoners will be paid for as if they existed).

Not to mention that if there are public and private prisons in the same state, they can always move them.

It's apparently common for CCA (and other private prison operators) to attempt to get this clause in contracts. In some cases, they do:


Yeah, I thought the post you replied to was confusing profit guarantees, but apparently not.



I wouldn't be surprised, if this judge is just the tip of a very large big and still floating iceberg.

This iceberg is still there, and it is right in our faces. The drug war has made a lot of people very, very wealthy at the expense of millions of first-time drug offenders who have been slapped with punishments far outweighing their crimes.

I am disgusted at how little time he got.

He knows the full extent of what he is doing, as he is a judge. As a person who has seen what prison can do to a person, I feel this is unjust.

There's very well an argument to be made that this level of subversion of the United States's legal system should really be considered to rise to treason.

If you want to kill a nation, shake people's faith in the function of its legal institutions.

In this modern context, a terrorism prosecution seems appropriate.

28 years is a life sentence effectively, especially for a man that age. Giving him a 10,000 year sentence just so we can pretend we're sufficiently harsh is absurd.

28 years is a long time, more or less a life sentence; given his age, he's quite likely to die in jail. It's a very heavy sentence indeed.

I remember this guy. I'll never forget this short video that came out during the case. It does a really good job of portraying just how despicable this man's actions were.


I'm from the area that was under Ciavarella. I remember being in middle school and having him say in an assembly "If you get in a fight, you're coming to me and you're going away. Miss too much school, you're coming to see me and you're going away."

I am always astonished (not in the positive meaning) by the length of theses sentences. The maximum sentence in Germany is 15 years (except for a life long sentence for murder, which could be longer).

(disclaimer: I am a volunteer/part time judge)


I'd like to add that I will not comment in public whether I think the sentence is appropriate or not, as I don't ever want anybody in a trial to accuse me of a biased opinion, although I highly doubt that anyone of "my" indicted people will ever read HN.

In this case it really couldn't be high enough.

Looking forward to the system wide audit of all people sentenced by all judges over the last 2 decades to make sure this hasn't happened elsewhere.

If such an audit happened and it turned up widespread abuses, do you think it would ever be released? Which is why such an audit hasn't been ordered and probably never will be; at least not publicly. Even if this is going on, it unfortunately probably needs to be cleaned up quietly (i.e. some judges resign, some executives of prison companies sent to jail over accounting irregularities, etc.)

I'm willing to bet this is more widespread than we imagine. It's pretty well documented that the justice system targets young black males who receive longer sentences and are more likely to be sent to prison for minor offenses than white offenders of a similar background. And why not? They're less likely to complain, and less likely to be taken seriously when they do because of the stereotype that black men go to prison. As a result, many in poor black communities trust the gang members selling drugs on the corner more than the police (see the whole anti-snitching movement).

I know this thread wasn't originally about race, but it's impossible to talk about prisons without talking about race because the justice system is so inherently racist. Just ask yourself if this judge would have gotten caught if he had only sent young black kids to jail. Then ask yourself how many white, well-educated judges are smart enough to realize that. I'm sure the vast majority of judges take their job seriously and would be appalled at this kind of behavior, but it doesn't take many to seriously undermine confidence in the system.

The American view of prison tends to be one of retribution and punishment. The European view tends to be one of rehabilitation. An American will typically see this case and hope this judge suffers immeasurably for his crimes.

You can count me in this group though I realize this feeling I have for this particular criminal is at odds with my desire for a less brutal prison system than the one we currently have in the U.S. We tend to like long prison sentences. I'm generally astonished with the leniency, from my point of view, given to people convicted of serious crimes in Europe.

I think this level of corruption, the combination of power abuse for profit and ruining lots of young people's lives, is worse than some kinds of murder.

Yeah, I'm also amazed at the length of some sentences in the US, but this is one of the few times that I totally agree.

What do you think would be an appropriate sentence for a crime like this? Society's most vulnerable betrayed by society's most trusted.

It's not really what I think would be appropriate, it's just a comparison of the length of sentences, which is totally different across legislatures. I've seen a TV report about Indonesia, where possessing drugs (if I understand it correctly) has extremley high sentences, comparable to murder here in Germany.

As someone who's fundamentally opposed to prison for white collar crimes like this, I could suggest:

* The felony record he's going to have for the rest of his life

* Massive monetary fine, to be automatically garnished from (and only payable by) any wages earned, leaving him with the equivalent of the local minimum wage until the fine is paid.

* Permanent banishment from any kind of justice system work, even as far as being a janitor in an administration building.

* Community service, on the order of weeks/months of time for each person who was unjustly sentenced.

* Felony record? He's an older, privileged white male. The only substantive effect on him will be loss of voting privileges.

* Only payable by wages earned? He's already earned a lifetime's worth of money. Why are you opposed to taking the money from his bank accounts, his house, and his net worth? Seems to me you're trying hard to put up a shield for the wealthy.

* Cynical to suggest permanent "banishment" from the justice system. I doubt there was much danger of him being appointed a judge again.

So. Why are you opposed to prison for white-collar crimes?

Background figures into a lot more than employment and voting, for one.

I hadn't considered his current financial situation - I'd be perfectly okay with taking his net worth for damages.

In case it wasn't blatantly fucking obvious, this was a list of ideas, non an exhaustive compendium of possible penalties!

Cynical? It's an assurance that he never ends up in a position to do this again.

I'm opposed to prison for white-collar crimes because I see prison as a place for segregation from society when there is no other option; specifically for violent and dangerous criminals. I don't see how locking this guy up serves any kind of justice other than the poetic type.

You got downvoted a lot but no one actually touched on the important issues: This is not a white collar crime.

The judge may not be the person physically handcuffing someone, but by improperly sentencing people to any kind of imprisonment he is directing violence at them. Someone is on the other side of the bars / glass / building and will use violence to keep the prisoner there if necessary.

Agreed. If you or I were to detain someone against their will for an extended time, its called 'kidnapping' and is a capital crime in some states. Definitely imprisonment is a violent act.

> As someone who's fundamentally opposed to prison for white collar crimes:

I'm curious. What constitutes a white collar crime in your opinion? Is it fundamentally non-violent, or is it really just a class distinction? Would you suggest prison time for armed robbery if the armed robber never hurt anybody over someone who embezzled money? What about kidnapping children but never physically hurting them? What about selling children to buyers who don't physically abuse them? Aren't those crimes very similar to selling children to a for-profit prison system?

I'm really curious what you qualify as a white collar crime and why you don't think it deserves the same level of justice as blue collar crimes.

In case you're asking this out of curiosity and not rhetorically (which your last sentence makes me think it's the latter..)

I'd say prison should exclude fundamentally non-violent crimes on the part of the person taking the action. People who have to be isolated from society, not because they've done something that violates some law, but because they've proven that they are a clear and present danger to others. Robbers, rapists, murderers, and so on.

I say this because prison has incredibly deleterious effects on the human psyche. As long as our system is about punishment rather than reform, I cannot in good faith condemn someone to that fate unless there is literally no other option to keep them from harming further.

This guy is both older and well off. There are ways to obtain restitution that don't involve having him spend years among violent criminals and ending up more damaged than when he went in.

There are murderers I would release sooner than this piece of social cancer.

Just wow.

as an American, I find 28 years to be appropriate for a crime of this magnitude. I only hope he isn't released early on parole.

According to another report, he can be released earlier with good behavior - assuming he lives to be 85 years old.

Allow me to pick your brain: Do you think it's unfair in this kind of sentence? Any kind of sentence over 15 that doesn't qualify for life under German law?

About fairness: I think the discussion is way out of scope of HN, and I think it's about what you expect from a law system in a country.

I don't understand your second question. You mean, what kind of sentences are life long sentences? Murder, high treason (?) (Hochverrat gegenüber dem Bund) can be given life long sentence, Sexual abuses against a child in which the child dies (and several other crimes where a person dies can be punished with life long sentence)

Don't forget genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (perhaps surprisingly, you can commit genocide without killing a single person).

Easily overlooked because it's not in the Strafgesetzbuch (Penal Code) anymore. Probably the only felonies that carry a life sentence that are not found in the Strafgesetzbuch.

It should be noted that this is a year old news.

And that only 3% of our prison population is in private prisons.

It was 8.0% in 2010 according to http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p10.pdf appendix table 19. Tendency increasing.

That's 68,000 people. A lot of people.

It's more. Corrections Corporation of America alone has "90,000 offenders and detainees"[1]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrections_Corporation_of_Amer...

Original article from Reuter's in Aug 11, 2011.http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/11/us-crime-kidsforca...

The real scandal here is the privatization of the prison system. Had the prison not been a for-profit corporation this kind of thing would not have happened.

This story shows that some things should not be privatized. Some people (Rand Paul) believe the Iraq war would not have happened had the US government not relied on for-profit corporations (Halliburton) for war-related contracts. See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/04...

What kind of a website is this? A couple of lines for an article, no sources and some shitty "how to get benefits" ads on the sidebar? Come on now.


He still deservers a fair trial, due process, and a fair sentence. These are exactly the things he denied the children he sentenced, we should be better and not do the same.

> If the person can be proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, be quick to punish, not let it drag on.

This is the part that takes a long time, and even then we often get it wrong. See the Innocence Project for examples. http://www.innocenceproject.org/

So from an engineer's viewpoint, going quickly has no downside (same error rate) and lots of upside (most cases get resolved quickly and cheaply)?

If you think the current state of affairs in America isn't a problem you simply need to look to the above article. Disgraceful, hopefully he dies in prison.

I'm not a really vindictive person, but I'm so glad this guy is going to jail; hopefully for the rest of his life.

His sentence should have been longer, but why are we giving this guy any more time of our day? This happened last year.

Three years ago, actually.

Welcome to the world of privatisation. When you privatize institutions which should be run by the government in the first place (health care, public transport, prisons, etc..) then you obviously open up the door for all sorts of corruption since now suddenly all these systems need to make profit.

Should have been life.

Should of been death really, It should be treason to tamper with the criminal justice system in a manner that puts innocent people in prison.

How barbaric of you.

While it's reasonable to ask whether the death penalty is appropriate even in cases such as treason, there's a fair case to be made that this level of subversion of the legal system is treason.

Isn't it also clear that the legal system is pretty broken in this case?

Edit: I could be wrong, only judging from 2 articles about this case.


>He's a monster.

How ironic :)

What is barbaric is putting people in cages without any reason to do so. Elected officials should be held to a higher standard and when they do wrong the consequences of those actions should be much higher. IE: Death.

Yep, both things are barbaric. Murdering people because they've done something wrong is just silly, though.

Sell 4000 pounds of weed, get life without parole. Sell 4000 lives, get 28 years, but really you will be out in 5 or 7.

There is no parole in the federal prison system but there is "Good conduct time." Unless he has a successful appeal or he dies first, he will serve at least 24 years and 4 months.

He's 61. It pretty much is.

Is there an aggregate source for sentencing data per state? I understand sentencing varies per judge and in accordance with state laws, but you would think this data exists at the state level and abnormalities (like this judges history?) might bubble up.

I'm shocked but also feel like I've seen something like this happening before, or at least some source speculating on it's possibility. Is there a precedent for this kind of corruption in the U.S? Elsewhere?

Yep, though not as illegally done.

The for-profit prison industrial complex spends millions of dollars lobbying for lengthier prison sentences.

Every bed they fill is money the state pays them.

Prisons pay politicians to get beds filled for lengthier times, so they can make more money from the states that convict and send them prisoners. It's a disgusting immoral racket.

I'm not finding anything online about what money private prison lobbyist spend on tougher sentencing. Folks claim 'millions of dollars' but this could just be hot air. Any references?

CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) has scaled down their lobbying in past years; it peaked in '05 with $3.38m. Since '04, they've spent $2.3 million in campaign contributions and $21 million in lobbying [0].

The GEO group spends much less (but they are global, serving Australia, South Africa & the UK as well): $1.143 million in campaign contributions and $3.56 million in lobbying since '04 [1].

0. http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000021940 1. http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=D000022003&cy...

Well, lobbying for private corrections is a different animal that lobbying for harsher sentencing. Without understanding where the dollars went, its hard to paint them with the evil brush.

The point is, simply by having both 1) lobbying by for-profit corrections and 2) the ability to influence sentencing guidelines with lobbying money create a significant moral hazard.

They don't even have to specifically lobby for tougher sentencing - they can just contribute to choice A of [A,B], where A is the candidate pushing for harsher sentences.

This is a decent sentence. I hope it sticks. I suspect there is more of this kind of the thing in the courts. The entire police, prison, and court systems needs to be disinfected. Reorganize the whole thing.

I can only suggest you to watch the PrisonValley documentary (2009) about the prison industry.


What's disgusting is that he gets 28 years and not life, or better, death prbalty. If there was ever a justified reason (ie Israel executing Eichman) this is it.

That article is hardly informative. What did he do wrong? Sentence juveniles solely to a single contracted prison? So were his decisions actually compromised? Or was it just the kickbacks that are at issue.

There's a sad state of affairs on the internet, where a couple of paragraphs of slanted commentary are called an 'article'.

Given that thousands of juvenile detentions were overturned, it was shown that he interfered with things beyond a reasonable doubt (though I agree that this isn't the best article).

For one of the more egregious examples (though there were several things wrong with this - this was just the last link in the chain) was the extended detention of a child whose 'crime' was insulting his school principal on Myspace.

Can a mod please add "2013" to the end of this? It's pretty old news.

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