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2 former Pennsylvania judges involved in the 'kids-for-cash' scandal ordered to pay $200 million in damages to victims

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Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Former Pennsylvania judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were ordered by U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner on Tuesday to pay the victims of the kids-for-cash scandal over $200 million in damages, the Associated Press reported.

District Judge Conner ordered the former Pennsylvania judges to pay $106 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages to approximately 300 victims.

From 2000 to 2008, Ciavarella and Conahan intentionally sent children to two for-profit juvenile detention centers in exchange for a kickback from the builder and co-owner of the facilities. The judicial scheme became known as the "kids-for-cash" scandal.

The judges accepted $2.8 million from the builder and co-owner of PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care, two for-profit detention centers. In return, they forced a county-run juvenile center to close, causing the children housed in that facility to be moved to the for-profit centers.

The judges were accused of having a zero-tolerance policy and punishing children with heavy sentences for light offenses. The Associated Press reported that Ciavarella sentenced first-time offenders and children as young as 8 to the juvenile center for petty theft, jaywalking, truancy, and other minor crimes.

Conner referred to the victims as "the tragic human casualties of a scandal of epic proportions."

In 2011, Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in prison on 12 counts, including racketeering, money laundering, and conspiracy. The 72-year-old former judge is currently serving his sentence in Kentucky with a projected release date in 2035. Conahan is currently serving out his 17-year sentence in home confinement for similar crimes. The 70-year-old will be released in six years.

After the investigation into Ciavarella and Conahan, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed 4,000 previous convictions for 2,300 kids.

Conner accused the judges of abandoning their oaths and stated, "Their cruel and despicable actions victimized a vulnerable population of young people, many of whom were suffering from emotional issues and mental health concerns." The judge determined that each victim was entitled to $1,000 for each day of wrongful detention.

The plaintiffs' attorneys expressed that the ruling was a "huge victory." However, the attorneys also stated that they were doubtful the victims would see any of the damages awarded.

Co-founder and chief counsel of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center and plaintiffs' attorney stated, "To have an order from a federal court that recognizes the gravity of what the judges did to these children in the midst of some of the most critical years of their childhood and development matters enormously, whether or not the money gets paid."

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