‘Weeping in the Playtime of Others’
By Norm Kent
By Norm Kent
Years ago, as a Criminal Justice professor at Florida Atlantic University, my curriculum for the Juvenile Delinquency course included the book 'Weeping in the Playtime of Others,' by Ken Wooden.
The book rails against the incarceration of America’s children, and points out ever so acutely the risks we place on youths when we privatize the juvenile justice system; when we pay private companies with public funds to care for them.
Sooner or later, Ken would argue in the book, we would pay a price somewhere, somehow, because greed would win out. It has been over 25 years since I taught at FAU, but some words ring true forever, and so today, Ken comes to mind, thanks to two Pennsylvania judges who have disgraced their community, dishonored their robes, and poisoned the judicial system.
Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan have been charged with sending hundreds of kids to two private juvenile detention centers in return for over two million dollars kickbacks from the two centers. The judges were charged on Jan. 26 and removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shortly afterward.
Not surprisingly, a review of the kids sent to the detention center revealed a common theme: they were poor and unlikely to have had counsel. Some were sent there by the jurist even without the recommendation of probation officers. Some were sentenced for incredibly innocuous offenses, such as ridiculing a school administrator on a My Space Post. Whatever, it is as disgusting and offensive a sample of judicial malfeasance as we are ever likely to witness.
The mechanism that enabled the judges to act corruptly was the privatization of prisons. That means you are taking a human services enterprise, a social obligation of our government, and transforming it into a for-profit scheme designed to line the pockets of its owners. You create a system which invites corporate corruption and compromises with constitutional standards.
Please do not say it cannot happen here. We are in the process of expanding these contracts in Florida and elsewhere. And the CEO’s running them get to choose between providing minimal constitutional safeguards or adding a new wing to a backyard in their North Carolina vacation home. I don’t give the kids much of a chance.
It would be nice to think judges are beyond the temptation of flawed conduct. But let’s be real. Whether you are A-Rod or Rush or Senator Tom Daschle, you slip, you fall, you fail. We want the extra hit, the extra line, the extra free ride. We are in a society that plays a game called ‘win at all costs.’ As a result, the kids, the poor, and the disabled, become the losers. That is what happens when you play ‘Monopoly’ with human rights.
Let me ask you this. I just posted a defense of Judge Barnes, censured by our Supreme Court for standing up to the abuses inherent in the first appearance system in his county. Who would you rather have in your courtroom presiding over your kid, a Judge Barnes or the Conahan fellow mentioned above?