The story seems pretty straight forward: a corrupt judge is paid money from private juvenile detention institutions to trump up charges against kids and send them to be locked up. But as a new documentary shows, the line between right and wrong isn’t always has clear as we’d like it to be.
Robert May’s new documentary, Kids for Cash, tells the story of Judge Mark Ciavarella, who began sentencing teenagers back in 2003 to juvenile detention centers for offenses as minor as trespassing in a an abandoned building, or poking fun at a principal with a fake MySpace profile.
As a result, over 3,000 children were dumped into the juvenile justice system under a “zero tolerance” policy. Many of the kids were persuaded to waive their right to a lawyer. Most despicable of all, some of the kids were incarcerated for years.
Eventually Ciavarella and a fellow judge, Michael Conahan were convicted of multiple federal charges and sentenced to decades in prison.
The film’s most powerful and heartbreaking scene comes on the steps of the courthouse just after Ciavarella has been sentenced. As the judge stands with his lawyer who is taking questions from reporters, Sandy Fonzo, the mother of a teenage boy who Ciavarella sent to a juvenile facility and later committed suicide, steps forward to angrily confront the judge.
“Do you remember me? Do you remember me?” Fonzo shouts. “Do you remember my son—an All-Star wrestler? He’s gone. He shot himself in the heart you scumbag.”
Watch a “Kids for Cash” preview in the video below: