After a 5-year reign of terror from the bench, a former Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge, Mark Ciavarella Jr. was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for taking $1 million in bribes from a privatized juvenal prison system, in exchange for funneling children as young as 10 to the facility for long sentences for petty or fabricated crimes. The private prison turned a hefty profit on having cells filled with “delinquents,” whether guilty or innocent or given a fair trial or not. In the wake of the scandal the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the conviction of 4,000 juvenile detained at the private camps, owned by the eerily named PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care corporations.
You know the privatization meme: the poisonous Reagan trope that “government is the problem,” and that virtually every democratic institution should be handed over to corporate owners. We saw it most recently blossom into Blackwater and the private armies that caused so much havoc in the Iraqi misadventure. As with any conservative meme, the facts don’t support the claims that privatization is more efficient than government – every try to get your cable guy to come over at a time you were actually there? – even assuming efficiency is the sole value to be pursued, and of course it is not. Indeed, the facts usually show otherwise. Most federal and state programs designed to help children and the poor, for instance, are run at a lower overhead as a percentage to budget than most charities, not to mention all for-profit outfits. TANF itself is a case in point. Most charities operate with an overhead of over 30% -- many with 80%. TANF’s overhead is estimated at about 7%, a figure that puts virtually every charity in the US to shame.
But as always, conservative memes never sully themselves with reality. They dwell in a Fact Free Zone, and are intended, instead, to tell a little narrative: in this case the story of the crackerjack PA Child Care entrepreneurs who promised to whip those juvies into shape, unlike the gummit bureaucrats and their liberal mollycoddling. Pennsylvanians bought the vapid narrative. As a result, 4,000 of their children were wrongfully imprisons. The sins of the fathers visited on the children in the flesh.
The so-called “Cash for Kids” scandal is being deflected by the Right-Wing Noise Machine and Tea Party hobbits as an example of judicial corruption. The conservative deflection is particularly repulsive in this case (isn't it always?). Judicial corruption occurs. And that’s why it is necessary to have institutional governmental safeguards in our criminal justice system, and our environmental regulatory system, and our educational system, and our financial system, and our utility system. And that’s why privatization is generally a bad idea with respect to essential services and programs. It reduces the checks on the bad motives found in any institution – indeed adds incentive to corruption by injecting profit-taking into the mix.
Ciavarella, a believer in privatization to the end, insisted that the money he took was somehow “legal.” The LNM only wishes that Ciavarella had been sentenced to a private prison, one run by people like PA Child Care.