send kids to prison, win big cash prizes!

Charles Barsotti is my favourite New Yorker cartoonist. I especially love his series with The Pup. Here are my faves: "The bidding will start at eleven million dollars", and "Not guilty, because puppies do these things".

I once ordered some pup-related merchandise from Barsotti, and sent a note of appreciation for his work. He wrote me a really nice note in return and included some little extras in the package.

The Pup is so sweet and adorable, but some of Barsotti's work has more of an edge. I have one of those hanging near my desk: "Come now, give the system a chance."

I thought of that cartoon when James sent me this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer, via Boing Boing:
The setting is Pennsylvania coal country, but it's a story right out of Dickens' grim 19th-century landscape: Two of Luzerne County's most senior judges on Monday were accused of sending children to jail in return for kickbacks.

The judges, Luzerne County President Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., 58, and his predecessor, Senior Judge Michael T. Conahan, 56, will serve seven years in jail under a plea agreement.

They're alleged to have pocketed $2.6 million in payments from juvenile detention center operators.

When a federal judge reviews their plea, though, the question ought to be whether the punishment is adequate - along with the judges being bounced from the bench, disbarred, and losing their pensions.

If the allegations are true, Ciavarella and Conahan were involved in a disgraceful cabal far worse than one that merely lined their pockets.

First, the judges helped the detention centers land a county contract worth $58 million. Then their alleged scheme was to guarantee the operators a steady income by detaining juveniles, often on petty stuff.

Many of the kids were railroaded, according to allegations lodged with the state Supreme Court last year by the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, an advocacy group.

In asking the court to intervene in April, the law center cited hundreds of examples where teens accused of minor mischief were pressured to waive their right to lawyers, and then shipped to a detention center.

One teen was given a 90-day sentence for having parodied a school administrator online. Such unwarranted detentions left "both children and parents feeling bewildered, violated and traumatized," center lawyers said.

"Very few people would stand up" to the Luzerne judges, according to the law center's executive director, Robert G. Schwartz.

Fortunately, Juvenile Law Center was willing to do so, along with backing from state Attorney General Tom Corbett's office and the state Department of Public Welfare.

The blind justices on the state's high court, though, took a pass. Only last month, they offered no explanation in declining to take up the law center's request that the court step up. [More here.]

Come now, give the system a chance.


John F said...

And this, folks, is why certain things should never be owned or operated by the private sector. If there's money to be made by locking people up, pretty soon you'll be imprisoning more per capita than China.

Another point: I had a Philosophy prof who used to say that business ethics meant "do whatever the law allows". I used to think he was cynical. Now I think he was naïve.

laura k said...

And this, folks, is why certain things should never be owned or operated by the private sector.

Yet we are living through an orgy of privatization. In the US, almost everything has been privatized - health care, prisons, disaster relief, a huge chunk of the military (and getting huger all the time), and increasingly, schools.

And worse, the public sector funds the outlay in the form of government contracts, but private corporations reap the profits.

And often, if they fail, the public bails them out! Capitalism for profits, socialism for losses. What could be better. :(

deang said...

pretty soon you'll be imprisoning more per capita than China

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the US has been well in the lead in imprisoning its population for years, far outpacing China.

The latest statistics reveal that the US has 2,293,157 people behind bars; 756 out of every 100,000 Americans are imprisoned. China has 1,565,771 behind bars; 119 out of every 100,000 Chinese are imprisoned.

The US has had the highest number of prisoners for years. Not surprisingly, it started to attain this ignominious position in the Reagan era, when Reagan shoveled money out of social programs and education and into prison, police, and military, causing an unprecedented prison expansion. The mindset in the US hasn't changed since then.

laura k said...

Thanks, Dean. I focused on the privatization, and missed that.

I posted a few prison statistics in this thread, towards the bottom.

If you count people on probation and parole, 7 million USians are in the system - one out of every 32 people.

JakeNCC said...

I guess I'm sheltered or something but when did prisons start being run by private corporations? Please tell me this isnt done in Canada? I'm a bit shocked at even the idea that private business can profit from locking people up. Is this common practice in the states? If so I hate them ( their system ) more than I thought.