Destroying Young Lives Should Not be Profitable

Mar 23, 2011 by

Destroying Young Lives Should Not be Profitable

From Southern Poverty Law Center

It came to be known as “kids for cash.”

That was the name given to the alleged $2.8 million bribery scheme in which a former Pennsylvania judge was accused of sentencing children to for-profit detention centers for kickbacks.

This month, the judge went on trial in that case and, days later, was convicted on several of the counts from the federal indictment. Unfortunately, this incident is only the latest to raise concerns about the wisdom of allowing for-profit companies into the juvenile justice system.

The toxic effect of for-profit companies on the juvenile justice system is indisputable. Across the country, nearly half of all children held behind bars live in facilities managed by private, for-profit companies. And tough economic times may spur more local governments to consider turning over their juvenile facilities to companies.

juvenile looking out prison barsBut when we create a profit motive to imprison children we risk creating a public safety crisis. The bottom line is that private prison companies make money when young people fill their facilities. A private prison company has no incentive to provide rehabilitative services that—if done correctly—could decrease the demand for prison beds. These companies similarly have no incentive to question whether the children in their custody could be better served with far less expensive community based interventions. These realities can stymie reform and create a costly, self perpetuating cycle of imprisonment.

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently filed two federal lawsuits that demonstrate in graphic detail the dangers of imprisoning children for profit—often that means corners are cut, duties are shirked and young lives are irreparably damaged.

In Mississippi, several private entities profit off the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility—a place that has become synonymous with violence and abuse. Prison staffers beat the youths in their custody. They sold drugs to them. They even engaged in sexual relationships with them. Young men languished without medical care and others have been beaten and raped.

Remarkably, because of a contract that allowed the facility to make money for each young man imprisoned there, the prison has only grown – tripling in size since opening its doors in 2001. About 1,200 young men are now in the custody of these companies. It’s bad news for the community, but good business for the companies. The more juveniles they lock up, the more money they get from the state.

At the Thompson Academy juvenile prison in Broward County, Fla., children suffered abuse and neglect as well. But when these youths attempted to contact lawyers, they were intimidated and coerced into signing statements ending or declining legal representation. Apparently, allowing these young people to recount their experiences to a lawyer would be bad for business.

These lawsuits are only two examples of a greater problem across this country. Our juvenile justice system is being undermined by for-profit prison companies.

We shouldn’t be surprised when we hear about “kids for cash” schemes. This is an industry where a company’s success depends on the failure of our children. And it thrives when the children in its care are ignored and forgotten.

Our children and our communities deserve better. And it’s why we must demand a juvenile justice system that doesn’t turn a profit every time it destroys a young life.

Visit the Southern Poverty Law Center


  1. Dearest Holly, please write me at and I will fill you in with more specific info. Thank you for your interest.

  2. Holly

    I would like to get involved any way i can. Was a teen mother. am a firm believer .

  3. JR Harris

    The story of Judge Ciavarella is actively being followed by many people. For a more in depth view at the problems this has caused you can use the following as a good resource. There are people out there trying to prevent this.

  4. To Larry : To answer your question. There were two judges indicted in the Cash for Kids Scandal in Pennsylvania, President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan. On February 18, 2011, following a trial, a federal jury convicted former Luzerne County Court Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. on 12 of the 39 counts he faced including racketeering, a crime in which prosecutors said the former judge used children “as pawns to enrich himself.” In convicting Ciavarella of racketeering, the jury agreed with prosecutors that he and Michael Conahan had taken an illegal payment of nearly $1 million from the juvenile detention center’s builder and then hidden the money.
    The panel of six men and six women also found Ciavarella guilty of “honest services mail fraud” and of being a tax cheat, for failing to list that money and more on his annual public financial-disclosure forms and on four years of tax returns. In addition, they found him guilty of conspiring to launder money. Ciavarella faces a minimum sentence of 13 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. As of this time Michael Conahan trial date is still to come.

  5. Now am I wrong , but didn’t the Judge walk away from this one with no penalty?

  6. It is here, there and everywhere!

  7. Michael Scotti via Facebook

    What can be done? Full scale revolutionary revolt. This world sickens me. mentally, physically, and spiritually. It is time to put these evil, greedy people in their place; a hole in the ground. Better still, subject them to their own philosophy.

    no lectures on the pitfalls of violence please. One can’t reason with a wolfpack. These folks have made a deliberate attempt to enslave the population to their own ends and have successfully destroyed lives. I have no sympathy or patience left. We must act NOW! The very survival of humanity is at stake.

    please don’t take this as a literal call to arms. the last thing we need is more violence but extreme action is needed to counter the powers that be. Remember, they are no more than 10% of the population. Do the math.

  8. Places like this exist because good people feel they are powerless. Good people number in the majority and need to know they have all the power. The collective message must be shouted out that this bullshit will not be tolerated. Poeple need to take charge of their communities, create and design a just society. A society where people are not judged by how much money they have, but by how much they contribute to the welfare of all.

  9. Bertrand Tézenas via Facebook

    a bit less greed would make a huge difference in this world. Greed of herds of businessmen but also greed of a few corrupt workers in state agencies, and to a less extent greed of some of the kids who end up in those facilities — the wrong hands.
    Breaking the cycle of greed is possible, it begins here and now. If each of us could define and decide for his own how much is enough, that would be a good start 🙂

  10. I’ve been doing some research. So the benefit of clarification the beginning of the privatization of juvenile corrections began under the Ford Administration Era. But it is important to understand that juvenile facilities are typically institutions which fall primarily under state governance and funding decisions. The first facility of this type became Weaversville Intensive Treatment Unit located in North Hampton,
    Pennsylvania, when in 1976 RCA Services, a private company, assumed control the what had up until that time been a state facility. This facility was designed to handle male delinquents. Although the private sector, by that point in time, had long been involved in providing a wide range of correctional services, this was the first modern institution for serious juvenile offenders to be completely operated by a private sector company. (Here is the reference material:

  11. Where’s Charles Dickens when we need him?

  12. Every one of these points, each of you has brought up, is so relevant to this issue. I appreciate, so much, your willingness to look, straight on, at this horrendous abuse of the system and its management.

  13. I too agree that we need to start speaking up together about some of the things that are not helping society at all. So much injustice done by a system that is supposed to be about justice. And if you look deep you see the injustice, but we all have to say “It is a messed up system and not much can be done.” If everyone that feels that way, and feels helpless as a single person could come together it could surely make a difference.

  14. Hi Brooke, thanks! The concept, as it relates to the article specifically addresses the manner in which we’ve allowed a system to exist that targets a specific group (children) in order to resolve a supposed conflict. There are more effective ways to achieve stability within a child, while also adjusting how the child relates or contributes to the surrounding environment. The material ‘solutions’ seek external resolution. The spiritual solutions seek homeostasis through a more holistic approach of reaching the core of the issue at hand. A spiritual solution might be something like bringing yoga in to heal these kids, rather than taking advantage of their ‘dis’advantages and profiting off of their lack of knowledge (regarding basic human rights, etc). We have these circles and we are stuffing them into square holes, all the while complaining why “rehabilitation doesn’t work” leaving way too much room for corrupt systems to go so far unnoticed, they almost become an acceptable norm!

  15. People need to stop looking the other way before their own kids end up gone. My boys have made DCFS profit by about 2 million dollars, all done illegaly. But nobody enforces the laws. When I talked to the DA’s office, more than once, I was told, “We don’t mess with Children’s Services” All my boys had to give up was their childhoods, and the quality of their future, not to mention the brain cells that have been damaged due to the medication. (They’re worth a lot more federal money if they are special needs kids – so the agencies make it happen. And nobody does a damn thing about it. They just look the other way, either not wanting to believe it’s true, not being aware, or just not caring.

  16. Kids for cash has been in all 50 states, since the Adoptions and Safe Familys Act, which was passed under President Clinton. It’s actually a good bill, but the safeties that would keep the local agencies and governments in check, keep them from profitting by taking children and earning money for them, are not being enforced. The agencies are totally corrupt!

  17. Thanks for that thought, Gabriel, I enjoyed the concept as you’ve proposed it here, how do you see it relating to the article specifically?

  18. We need to teach people how to be friends with themselves… you’d have thought this would have been part of the “life curriculum” when we arrived here on earth, but it wasn’t. In a way, these are spiritual problems and we (all along) have been providing material solutions. If we want divinity to be real in our life, then we have to treat it as such.