Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Goddamn, boys and girls live precarious lives in the U.S.A today. If they don’t fall victims to regularly scheduled school shootings or pederast clergymen, they are processed into commercially valuable commododities by corrupt juvenile judges and sold to private prisons. The shooting deaths at school might be attributed to crazies with constitutionally-sanctioned access to guns, and perverted priests are old hat, but the sale of children to private prisons is uniquely sinister. This cynical practice is perpetrated by subjects–we’re talking about judges–who are bound by public trust to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of their country’s young people.
The betrayal of that obligation in order to ruin young lives is, I submit, a crime as serious as homicide. Violation of public trust, like election tampering, is an issue that touches the very DNA of a democratic society. A country without honest and trustworthy judicial authorities and free and fair elections has no right to call itself a democracy.
Kids for Cash
I refer to the 2008 Kids for Cash case in which two Pennsylvania juvenile court judges were convicted of accepting kickbacks from a “prominent” real estate developer for unfairly sentencing children to imprisonment in his two for-profit juvenile prisons. The judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, not only provided the new prisons with some 2,400 children for profit, but were instrumental in using their influence to have the existing juvenile facility discredited and the new ones constructed.
The “crimes” for which children as young as 13, first offenders, were accused of by the corrupt judges were as trivial as making fun of a school principal on Myspace.com, entering a vacant building or shoplifting DVDs from Wal-Mart. And thanks to a judicial twist called “indefinite probation” the young inmates were subject to periodic behavior reviews which could extend their sentences up to seven years. Probation officers actually had their own offices in the district’s schools to monitor students.
In the end, after a class-action suit filed by the Philadelfia-based Juvenile Law Center, it was established that the two judges received some $2.6 million in “finders’ fees” for providing children for the private prisons. When the trial was over all the children had their convictions overturned and expunged from their records, which is not to say they got off easy. After their years of harrowing incarceration 66% of them never went back to school. As for the crooked judges, they are currently in prison themselves. Ciavarella was additionally indicted for racketeering, a crime in which prosecutors said the former judge used children “as pawns to enrich himself.” Ciavarella was imprisoned for 28 years. Conahan got 17 and a half.
Corrupt Judge as Civic Hero
Ironically, before the scandal broke, “President Judge Ciavarella” was lionized in the community both by school authorities and parents whose children were not imprisoned for his “zero tolerance” policy and dispensation of virtually automatic prison sentences for petty crimes committed by children. (Everybody wants zero tolerance for other people’s children.) Ciavarella was a popular speaker every year for two decades at school assemblies all over the district, where he promised unabashedly that the students would be subject to rough justice.
Even without the payment-for-children aspect of the Kids for Cash case, the popularity of “zero-tolerance” is still responsible for exaggeratedly severe prison sentences for young people all over the country. Zero tolerance is the name for a policy that sprang from the rich compost of authoritarianism prevalent in post-911 America. It holds no regard for human rights nor extenuating circumstances such as poverty or childhood abuse. In most cases it prohibits judges from exercising discretion. The sentences are blindly mandated by law.
The Damage Done
The damage done to children, families, schools and the society at large is incalculable. The permanent presence of parole officers, with offices inside schools, is an ominous
precedent in the schools of a democratic society, just one more Orwellian oppressive measure that Americans are learning to accept as normal. What’s next, political
commisars to prevent deviant thinking in schools? Mercenary army recruiters? Gun shows?
For more than a century the United States was the world leader in lynchings. It’s not a coincidence that the majority of these kids who receive life no-parole sentences are African Americans. The well-oiled school-to-prison pipeline affects young black men with an overall incarceration risk that is six to eight times higher than young whites.
Kids for Cash is Just the Tip of the America’s Injustice Iceberg
The Kids for Cash case is just one example of the ill treatment of young people under United States law. The U.S. is, in fact, the only country in the world whose legislation forsees the possibility of defendants under the age of 18 being incarcerated on a life-no-parole basis. They will stay in prison until they die. Today there approximately 2,500 of them in this situation in American prisons. How is this abuse of power possible in “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” unless that moniker is just a publicity slogan not subject to the laws of truth in advertising.
We shouldn’t be surprised though. Of the 193 United Nations member countries there are only two that have not ratified the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child: Somalia and the United States of America.
The Kids for Cash case gave rise to some excellent documentaries. The first of these cited here is a fascinating 50-minute interview with the documentary film maker, Robert May: https://youtu.be/mVzSe2TQ3d0
And this one is his Kids for Cash documentary: https://youtu.be/vxpNynnYwC0
Kids Serve LIFE in Prison, the story of Kenneth Young. This one will shake you: https://youtu.be/4_RSz_Rq3cg