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Hearing on Pa. Judges Who Took Kickbacks From Private Prison

This is one of our editors' picks from our ongoing roundup of Investigations Elsewhere.

A special panel convened in northeastern Pennsylvania Monday to examine how two judges there carried out a scheme in which they took $2.8 million in kickbacks from a private juvenile prison company in exchange for lengthy sentences.

Testimony revolved around Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr., who carried out the sentencing. He and another judge pled guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud last February, but Ciavarella said that the payouts had not influenced his decisions.

At the hearing, families gave disturbing accounts of kids traumatized by seemingly unjust sentences. But the more pervasive theme was how the judicial system apparently turned a blind eye. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

Witnesses painted a picture of a legal establishment bending to the iron will of Ciavarella … Much of the questioning centered on why prosecutors, probation officers, and public defenders did not challenge Ciavarella's failure to explain to defendants the consequences of waiving their right to counsel and of pleading guilty. This process, called a colloquy, is required by state court rules.

The New York Times detailed in March how the alleged scheme was able to go unstopped for years.

The state Supreme Court overturned about 6,000 juvenile convictions in October, on the grounds that Ciavarella did not give them a fair hearing.

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