What sparked this post was a recent piece on the California Bar Journal about a Pennsylvania judge who has just been convicted by a federal jury of --
taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from the owner of for-profit juvenile detention facilities. Mark Ciavarella was convicted on 12 of 39 counts, including racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and filing false tax returns. The jury also found that he must forfeit the $997,600 “finder’s fee” he received from the developers of private juvenile detention centers. Another former judge charged in the case, Michael T. Conahan, pleaded guilty to a single racketeering charge last year and is awaiting sentence.
The author, Janice Brickley, informs us of the California Commission on Judicial Performance; lawyers can submit complaints about judges, and in situations such as the Pennsylvania travesty, they should. But much as it is shocking to see a judicial officer whose neutrality is the cornerstone of justice sell off to correctional profiteers, let's keep in mind that judges are human beings. And the absolute power provided to people - whether it's over prison management or people's lives - corrupts absolutely.
We've recently seen examples of other kinds of travesty that seems to be the by-product of privatized industries: The sexual assault of Hawai'ian inmates in a private facility in Kentucky, and the distressing complicity of Correctional Corporations of America in bringing about the racist, xenophobic, and arguably unconstitutional, SB1070 in Arizona. Why would judges be better than corporate profiteers or their employees? Why are we so surprised when they transgress, whereas we shrug at CCA's cynical manipulation of state correctional policies to fill its institutions with inmates? I don't know. But these sorts of incidents should provide food for thought to those who would expand the privatized empire as a measure to fight overcrowding.
Props to dear colleague Lois Schwartz for the link.