This gripping and mind blowing documentary is one of the most powerful films I've seen in a long time. I have to admit I was so infuriated by this film that I found my stomach roiling and my blood pressure rising throughout.
It mainly focuses on 2 Luzerne County, Pa. Juvenile Court Judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, with more emphasis on Ciavarella. He ran for office initially on an anti-crime platform, and from what the movie describes once in office ran what seemed like a "kangaroo court", with juvenile cases before him sometimes lasting less than 2 minutes before sending them off to detention centers.
Once this occurred the parents of these teens would lose their parental rights immediately, and the county or state would become their legal guardians. Apparently, there were deceptive tactics used where many parents were intimidated or deceived into signing waivers of attorney before entering Judge Ciavarella's courtroom. Some of these juveniles would end up spending years in detention centers for minor offenses, as a result leading to severe if not tragic consequences for all concerned.
Ciavarella dished out these judgments, per the film, in a most arbitrary and dictatorial manner, but as it turns out he comes across as being the ultimate hypocrite, fully in denial. You see he was receiving money from the very detention centers he was ending these teens to, amounting to millions of dollars, plus not declaring this money on ethics or income tax filings.
Later, Ciavarella along with Conahan accepted millions more dollars for what they described as a 'finder's fee" for helping to get the funding and construction for a new Juvenile Detention Center, and, of course, not declaring that money either. Here's a judge asking the head of the construction company offering the fee--"Is this legal"--give me a break! You just shake your head in disbelief! I won't go into more details here, as I don't want this review to be too lengthy, but let's just say justice was eventually served regarding these two judges. The outburst of a distraught mother on the steps of the courthouse was one of the most electrifying and heart-rending scenes I've seen on screen in a long time.
In summary, I thought this documentary, directed by Robert May, tried to present as fair a picture as possible regarding all these events. Also, it tried to point out the horrible systemic failures of these problems in our country, whereas the leadership to tackle the juvenile justice system seems sorely lacking. Finally, I thought the movie was very well researched and edited, and came across as a gripping piece of cinema.
Kids for Cash
Kids for Cash
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Kids For Cash is a riveting look behind the notorious judicial scandal that rocked the nation. Beyond the millions paid and high stakes corruption, Kids For Cash exposes a shocking American secret. In the wake of the shootings at Columbine, a small town celebrates a charismatic judge who is hell-bent on keeping kids in line...until one parent dares to question the motives behind his brand of justice. This real life thriller reveals the untold stories of the masterminds at the center of the scandal and the chilling aftermath of lives destroyed in the process - a stunning emotional roller coaster.
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