Saturday, February 14, 2009

Oliver Twist in Our Time

When high school students in Scranton, Pa. study 19th century English literature, they should have their own insight into the Dickensian world of Oliver Twists being exploited by the rich and powerful.

In a bizarre 21st century version, two local judges have pleaded guilty to charges of taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers. One of them arranged the contracts for housing juvenile offenders, while the other sentenced kids there for the slightest infractions to keep the places filled, an estimated 5,000 over five years.

Now the judges are facing prison time of their own as parents and youth advocates wonder how such echoes of Dickens' brutal world could have gone on for so long in modern America.

Admirers of the great novelist will find a life-size bronze statue of him in Philadelphia, but they will have to travel across the state to Scranton to see how persistent the human exploitation he wrote about still is.

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