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11/13/2012 5:00:00 PM
Kids for Cash takes a look at flawed system
Rosita Smith

BLYTHE - Our children are our nation's greatest assets. They are the ones who will define the future of our country and, quite possibly, the world. They will develop new and exciting technology, taking us to the heavens above and deep into the earth beneath our feet. Medical advances will flower under their tutelage and commerce will thrive within our borders. So why are so many adults exploiting them, degrading them, imprisoning them?

From The Boy Named It, to papal transgressions; from Jerry Sandusky to Jhessye Shockley the news divvies up a constant stream of abuse against the most vulnerable portion of our society - the young children who know of no other kind of life; who can't, or are afraid to, speak up, and when they do, they get the brush-off from the adults in which they confide.

Now, from the coal hills of Pennsylvania, comes another story of child abuse at the hands of Judge, Mark Ciavarella.

But first, a little background. Nearly almost all of the world's supply of anthracite coal, which burns cleaner and gives off more heat than conventional bituminous coal, is located in the hills of Pennsylvania. That gave rise to the United Mine Workers Union which, by extension, gave rise to bribery and the widespread corruption by organized crime, which still exists. Even today it is not unusual for an entire town to be run by one or two families that demand retribution for favors done or jobs procured - with a lot of money laundering to cover up the trail.

Judge Ciavarella ran a zero tolerance courtroom. Juveniles who were picked up for even the minutest transgression were brought before his bench and told to sign a waiver for attorney representation and to plead guilty (because that would get them leniency). Then Ciavarella would have them hand-and-ankle-cuffed and led out of the courtroom to a holding room. When the holding room was full, the kids would be loaded into vehicles that would take them to one of the juvenile retention sites. If they managed to get into the courtroom, parents were not allowed to talk to their children, or even say good-by.

Some of these children were held for a week or more before being "evaluated." Many of them were so traumatized by the experience that it has scarred their life responses ever since.

When Judge Ciavarella took office as Juvenile Court Judge for Luzerne County the Juvenile detention facilities were in shabby condition. The court billed the commonwealth for each child incarcerated: the more kids there, the bigger the payout. The state was not going to improve the situation, so Ciavarella decided to build a new for-profit juvenile retention complex- PA Child Care - and charge the state for each child incarcerated. The first site was soon at capacity, so another one was constructed. The more children thrown into the holding system, the more profit he garnered. As his profits mounted his living style rose, as did his debts, and soon Ciavarella was caught in a network of bribery, denial, deceit, money-laundering, racketeering, fraud, tax violations and extortion. Finally justice caught up with him and he is now serving time in Pennsylvania.

William Ecenbarger's Kids for Cash takes the reader deep inside a profoundly flawed legal system, revealing the twisted and haunted realities of America's juvenile justice system. You can find this book on the Palo Verde Valley Library's new non-fiction shelf under 365.42 ECENB. The library is located at 125 W. Chanslorway in Blythe.

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