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...
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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.Written by
Kids for Cash
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.
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