Kids for Cash



Plot summary

Uploaded by: FREEMAN


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938.16 MB
English 2.0
23.976 fps
1 hr 41 min
P/S ...
1.7 GB
English 2.0
23.976 fps
1 hr 41 min
P/S ...

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by larrys310 / 10

Gripping & Mind Blowing

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.

Reviewed by Walt-Most8 / 10

High-quality documentary about shocking injustice

This is a beautifully made film about the huge judicial scandal that became known as "kids for cash." Basically, two judges in Pennsylvania secretly received millions of dollars from the owners of a for-profit prison for juveniles in their jurisdiction, while at the same time pulling strings to give the prison a monopoly on juvenile detentions and (in the case of one of the judges) sentencing hundreds (literally, hundreds) of juveniles to years of incarceration in the same prison, without due process and often for truly minor misbehavior.

The documentary tells its story through interviews, news footage, and a limited number of title cards. There is no narrator, and the voice(s) of the interviewer(s) are not heard. The focus is on five of the hundreds of teenagers who were imprisoned in this scam: Charlie Balasavage, Justin Bodnar, Hillary Transue, Edward Kenzakoski, and Amanda Lorah. The interviews with the victims are heartbreaking. We also hear from the two judges (Ciavarella and Conahan),who allowed themselves to be interviewed for the film while the federal cases against them were pending. In some ways, this footage, while infuriating to watch, was the most interesting aspect of the film. Among the other interviewees are Terrie Morgan, the reporter who mainly covered the scandal for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader (and who serves as a de facto narrator),and Marsha Levick and Robert Schwartz, two attorneys with the non-profit Juvenile Law Center who worked to have the cases affected by the scandal vacated.

The events covered here present dangerously rich material for a filmmaker. Should the story be about money? About power? About the juvenile justice system in general? The one weakness of the film is that it moves around among all of these themes without clearly digging into any of them. The opening and closing title sequences suggest that the third, broadest theme is the focus. But if so, why use the damage caused by two judges who were clearly corrupt as the vehicle?

Despite that flaw, the film deserves 8 stars for its excellent production values and, most of all, the powerful interview footage, which brings home the effects the scam has had on so many lives.

Reviewed by ferguson-67 / 10

Special Safeguards and Care

Greetings again from the darkness. Focusing on "the honorable" Judge Ciavarelli and Judge Conahan of Pennsylvania, director Robert May (The War Tapes) provides some insight into a despicable miscarriage of justice that the media labeled Kids for Cash. It's a catchy phrase that can be defined as a convergence of some less-than-favorable traits: abuse of power, over-the-top greed, and a collapse of trust in the juvenile justice system.

The talking head approach is on full display, and proves quite effective here. We get interviews and statements from attorneys, journalists, citizens, a particularly vocal radio talk show, and surprisingly, even Judge Ciavarelli and Judge Conahan. The biggest wallop comes from the words and body language of those most directly impacted – the kids and their parents.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Ciavarelli and Conahan were charged in various felonies related to their conspiratorial actions that led to the closing of a County facility, the fundraising for a new private facility, and the subsequent sentencing of thousands of kids to ensure the facility remained at capacity. The financial rewards for these two men included "finder's fees" ($2 million for Ciavarelli),or what most others would term bribes or kickbacks.

The actions of Judge Ciavarelli are defended by his staunch campaign strategy of "Zero Tolerance" in the wake of the Columbine tragedy. Once elected, his frequent speeches at local schools reinforced his commitment to zero tolerance, and his promise to severely penalize any kid that ran afoul of the law. In theory, most of this sounds like a formidable stance, however, the real problem occurs when the test of reasonableness is absent in the charging of teenagers with a crime. This is where the film falls a bit short. The kids going to court makes a dramatic story, but the missing link is HOW does this happen when most of these cases come across as schoolyard dust-ups, typical teenager antics (a MySpace page),and simply part of the maturing process for adolescents?

There is an acknowledgment that most young teenagers don't have the necessary decision-making skills or sense of judgment to handle these situations. The point is well made that teenagers are not just little adults … there is much growth to come, both physically and intellectually. This leads to the real question: why aren't we doing a better job of allowing kids to develop their judgment and dispute resolution skills. The pizza shop guy in the movie says "we all got in playground fights". He's right! But these days, that gets the kid (even first time offenders) arrested and possibly sent away … where they come back hardened and angry. This approach is not working - though, I'm certainly not suggesting mass playground fights. There has to be a better way.

With so much attention to the (then) upcoming trials of the two judges, the film's tone shifts to one of revenge and reckoning. It's an emotional and powerful time, and neither of the judges come across as believable or likable. In fact, Conahan strikes a plea bargain, and Ciavarelli defiantly states he is not guilty of "kids for cash" … AFTER being found guilty of 12 felonies on related issues! His true character shines through.

The film expertly tells the story … often very personal stories … of some of those impacted by the Kids for Cash scandal. It raises many questions on numerous topics, though most are overshadowed by the focus on the judges' trials. Near the end, many statistics are displayed – some of which could support their own documentary. The real impact of a documentary is judged by its call to action – the ability to get people involved in finding answers and solutions. Let's hope the impact is profound, even if it's too late for some.

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