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Crooked Judges, Private Prisons, and Honest Services

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On the National Law Journal site is this story by Peter Hall and Leo Strupczewski of the Legal Intelligencer. "Two Luzerne County, Pa., judges have conditionally agreed to plead guilty and serve more than seven years each in prison for their roles in a Dickensian scheme to channel juvenile offenders into a private detention facility in exchange for payments from the owners."

"The [U.S. Attorney's information] alleges that between June 2000 and the end of April 2007, [Judges] Ciavarella and Conahan collected more than $2.6 million in exchange for decisions from the bench that benefitted the owners of a private juvenile detention center including a 2004 agreement for the placement of juvenile offenders worth $58 million."

Some of our friends in the small government, conservative/libertarian movement are gung-ho to privatize everything government does. I think we need to look at that carefully, case by case. Adam Smith's "invisible hand" of the market is a superior way to allocate resources and achieve efficiency where the dynamics of a market exist -- myriads of individual buyers and a fair number of sellers, with the buyers demanding value in the things they buy for themselves with their own money. When government is the buyer and the buying-decision-maker is not spending his own money and is the not the actual consumer, the self-interest that produces efficiency in a real market can produce corruption instead.

A second public-policy lesson here is the importance of federal law enforcement in cases of state and local corruption. This case involves, once again, the "honest services" law noted last week. The vagueness of that law is a genuine problem warranting the attention of Congress, but corruption of the type involved here must remain a federal offense.

2 Comments

Seven years is far far far too short a sentence. The bottom line is that these juveniles were incarcerated at the point of a gun (I find unavailing the argument that all of these victims would have been incarcerated anyway), which makes these judges at least as bad as the guy who breaks into a home and at gunpoint ties up the home's occupants.

LWOP seems to me to be the appropriate sentence.

"Some of our friends in the small government, conservative/libertarian movement are gung-ho to privatize everything government does. I think we need to look at that carefully, case by case. Adam Smith's "invisible hand" of the market is a superior way to allocate resources and achieve efficiency where the dynamics of a market exist -- myriads of individual buyers and a fair number of sellers, with the buyers demanding value in the things they buy for themselves with their own money. When government is the buyer and the buying-decision-maker is not spending his own money and is the not the actual consumer, the self-interest that produces efficiency in a real market can produce corruption instead."

Perfectly stated.

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