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Kids for Cash

Late last year I wrote a three-part series about the perils of privatization of youth prisons and detention centers. I mentioned that one case in particular stands out, namely that “two juvenile court judges in Pennsylvania who received kickbacks for sending kids to privately operated juvenile facilities. Mid Atlantic Youth Services Corp owned and operated them.”

Recently there was a special report on Democracy Now! Called “Kids for Cash” that goes into greater detail about these cases. Readers can watch a video of the program here.

The report contains in-depth interviews with two of the kids directly involved in the case. One is Charlie Balasavage who, according to the report, “was sent to juvenile detention after his parents unknowingly bought him a stolen scooter.” There is a girl named Hillary Transue who “was detained for creating a MySpace page mocking her assistant high school principal.” At the time these cases occurred were both were 14-years-old and “were sentenced by the same judge, Judge Mark Ciavarella. This judge is now serving a 28-year sentence.

This new documentary was made by filmmaker Robert May (he is also featured on this program). Also featured on this Democracy Now! program are two mothers, one of which had a son who killed himself after being locked up by Judge Ciavarella, plus Hillary’s mother, Laurene Transue.

Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Juvenile Law Center, is also featured and he puts these cases into a larger perspective. Last October, the companies involved in this scandal settled a civil lawsuit for $2.5 million.

I have written many blogs, commentaries and books on the subject of this subject and it never ceases to amaze me how often these and similar cases occur. It is as if history has been forgotten, that cases like In re Gault never occurred, that the scandals surrounding hundreds of juvenile “correctional” facilities have never occurred, nor that dozens of law suits have been settled over the years.

All of these cases have at least one thing on common: they involved juveniles that have no power, despite the protections theoretically provided by various Supreme Court rulings. They illustrate the lack of accountability and oversight for the daily activities of the juvenile justice system; activities that seem to remain hidden, without anyone noticing, until something dramatic occurs, such as a death.

I believe it is time for the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a full-scale investigation of all the abuses that have occurred in recent years. They could start by not only reviewing the cases in Pennsylvania, but also cases documented in two web sites here and here, plus the recent stories about bodies buried on the grounds of an old juvenile prison in Florida.

Keywords: prisons, Randall Shelden, youth

Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice

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