Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pennsylvania judges jail kids for money

Associated Press is reporting that two Pennsylvania juvenile court judges took kickbacks amounting to $2.6 million to sentence juveniles to private detention centers. They are expected to plead guilty on Thursday. While Pennsylvania juvenile court judges typically "detained" one in ten juveniles, these two judges detained one in four.

When I was a young public defender in 1977 and 1978, I faced judges who I believed were unjust because they actually presumed that the accused were guilty, they disregarded exculpatory evidence, and ruled in ways that denied the accused the opportunity to defend themselves. In juvenile court, we usually appeared before attorneys who were appointed to serve as "masters" in lieu of actual judges. Those appointments were political patronage jobs, and these attorneys were also, in my view, indifferent to the constitutional rights of the accused juveniles.

But I never would have thought, even for a moment, that they ruled as they did because they were being paid off! If you had suggested this scenario to me as a hypothetical, I would have been very skeptical that it actually happened.

The corruption which I fear is almost certainly growing in the U.S. is the intimidation of "plata o plomo" (would you like silver. . . or lead?) that the criminal gangs in Colombia and Mexico present to public officials, the police and the judiciary. Operating in hundreds of U.S. cities, it is inconceivable that the gangs leave their primary tool behind at the border. How does this operate? The typical ways: evidence gets lost, legal arguments are bungled, papers get mislaid, witnesses are erroneously not notified, or specious defense motions are granted. At the legislative level, any suggestion about discussing a change in the status quo -- which is so profitable to the criminals -- in favor of an effective system that focuses on treatment and preventing recidivism is vehemently attacked.

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