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Former Pennsylvania judges indicted in juvenile sentencing scandal

[JURIST] Two former Pennsylvania judges were indicted [press release] Wednesday by a federal grand jury on 48 counts in connection with alleged illegal actions to benefit private juvenile detention facilities. The charges against Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella, Jr. include racketeering, fraud, extortion, and money laundering for allegedly accepting at least $2,819,500 in illegal payments in return for making decisions in favor of the detention centers, including incarcerating youths to raise the occupancy of the facilities. In addition to criminal penalties, the prosecutor is requesting a forfeiture of the kickbacks that the former Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas [official website] judges allegedly received.

The issuing of the indictment follows the August withdrawal of the former judges' February guilty pleas [JURIST reports] on federal corruption charges [information, PDF] for honest services fraud and tax fraud. The judges withdrew their pleas after Judge Edwin Kosik rejected the initial plea agreement that the judges made, finding the 87-month prison sentences too lenient. Criminal law scholar David Harris [professional profile] criticized [JURIST op-ed] the plea agreement, saying that the sentence was not "nearly enough for the harm they did to the system of justice, to our collective belief in the rule of law, to these children, and to their families." In March, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided to overturn hundreds of juvenile convictions [JURIST report] and expunge records without hearing to rectify the judges' alleged actions. The Supreme Court's decision came at the recommendation of a Special Master [text, PDF] in response to a lawsuit brought by families of incarcerated youth.

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