Two judges in Pennsylvania pleaded guilty last week to taking $2.6 million in exchange for sentencing juveniles to time in privately run detention centers. 5,000 juveniles have been sentenced since this kickback scheme started; many of them were first-time offenders.
What if sentencing of those 5,0000 juveniles had been done by a judge seeking accountability and rehabilitation for the offender rather than financial gain for himself? How many of those teens might have been spared life-long negative outcomes? How many guardians might have avoided the pain of interference with their parental rights? This kickback scheme offends justice and decency, and reflects a broken juvenile court system. But what does it have to do with speech?
One of the teens devastated by this kickback scheme is Hillary Transue. Hillary was sentenced by the corrupt Judge Ciavarella Jr. in 2007. She received 3 months in a juvenile detention center for creating a spoof MySpace page about her assistant principal. According to the New York Times, the page clearly stated that it was a joke.
Teenagers regularly use forums like MySpace for self-expression. Making the publication of a MySpace parody a jailable offense likely chills teen speech in this and other on-line forums. Sentenced teenagers and their families clearly are the primary victims of the judges’ crimes, but the chilling of speech is a notable secondary effect. With hope, the chill will be lifted with the eventual sentencing of these corrupt judges. Perhaps they’ll be subject to MySpace parodies of their own.