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The Kids for Cash Scandal

 

Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where hundreds of teens were remanded to private juvenile facilities in Luzerne County by Judge Mark Ciavarella in what has come to be known as the "Kids for Cash " scandal. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where hundreds of teens were remanded to private juvenile facilities in Luzerne County by Judge Mark Ciavarella in what has come to be known as the "Kids for Cash " scandal. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where hundreds of teens were remanded to private juvenile facilities in Luzerne County by Judge Mark Ciavarella in what has come to be known as the "Kids for Cash " scandal. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

View of the Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where hundreds of teens were remanded to private juvenile facilities in Luzerne County by Judge Mark Ciavarella in what has come to be known as the "Kids for Cash " scandal. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

View of the Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where hundreds of teens were remanded to private juvenile facilities in Luzerne County by Judge Mark Ciavarella in what has come to be known as the "Kids for Cash " scandal. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Robert May, who directed the film "Kids for Cash."

Outside the Times Leader, the paper who broke the story that lead to the "Kids for Cash" documentary. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Robert May speaking at the premier of his film "Kids for Cash." (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Robert May speaking at the premier of his film "Kids for Cash." (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

The premier of Robert May's film "Kids for Cash." (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Robert May speaking at the premier of his film "Kids for Cash." (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Robert May speaking at the premier of his film "Kids for Cash." (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Robert May at the premier of his film "Kids for Cash." (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Robert May at the premier of his film "Kids for Cash." (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Hillary Transue, who was remanded to a private juvenile detention center by convicted Judge Mark Ciavarella in a scandal known as "Kids for Cash," at the premiere of Robert May's documentary about the scandal. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Sandy Fonzo, the mother of Edward Kenzakowski who was remanded to a private juvenile detention center by judge Mark Ciavarella in the "Kids for Cash" scandal, at the premiere of Robert May's film. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

The premier of Robert May's film "Kids for Cash." (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

The premier of Robert May's film "Kids for Cash." (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Outside the abandoned Luzerne County Juvenile Detention Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Outside the abandoned Luzerne County Juvenile Detention Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Outside the abandoned Luzerne County Juvenile Detention Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Outside the Wilkes-Barre police station. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Outside the Times Leader, the paper who broke the story that lead to the "Kids for Cash" documentary. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Ouside the Nanticoke High School in Nanticoke, Pa., where 153 students were sent away to juvenile facilities. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

Downtown Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on the morning of the premiere of Robert May's film "Kids for Cash," A statue of a child stands in the foreground of the infamous courthouse.

One of two private juvenile facilities which became infamous in Robert May's documentary "Kids for Cash" about hundreds of teens who were remanded to private juvenile facilities in Luzerne County by Judge Mark Ciavarella. (Photo by Robert Stolarik for JJIE)

 

Text by Daryl Khan / Photos by Robert Stolarik

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — After a few beers one evening in the mid 1960s, Mark Ciavarella, in high school at the time and applying the kind of inexplicable logic that experts say is typical of many teens whose brains have not fully developed, conspired to steal a car and go for a joyride with his cousin and a friend. A detective noticed the teenagers suspiciously lingering around the car and pulled over. Ciavarella’s friend and his cousin darted away, but Ciavarella was not so lucky. The detective nabbed him and threw him in the back of his police car.

The officer’s decision would determine the young Ciavarella’s future. Would he arrest and process the suspect, possibly derailing the young man’s promising future? A staggering number of young people who end up in the criminal justice system are more likely to end up in prison than they are to earn a college degree.

During the ride Ciavarella’s heart pounded. Instead of placing the young Ciavarella into the relentless teeth of the juvenile justice system he gave the young man a break and took him home. He was greeted by his hysterical mother screaming, “I can’t believe my son is a criminal!” His father’s feelings were equally clear; he reared back and punched his son in the face.

“Knocks me out cold,” Ciavarella says.

“I didn’t need the system to take care of my problems,” Ciavarella continues. “My parents took care of my problems.”

The tough love, however, did not work. Ciavarella, now a disgraced judge whose name is synonymous with one of the biggest judicial scandals in recent memory, will in all likelihood die behind bars. Ciavarella was a lifelong resident of Wilkes-Barre. Now, he is imprisoned in a federal penitentiary, inmate number 15008-067, more than a thousand miles away from his grandchildren. They will learn about their grandfather from the hundreds of news clippings that detail his breathtaking corruption, and in the movie about his exploits that he agreed to star in.

Read the full story on JJIE here

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