POSTED February 4 2014

Kids for Cash: Who judges the judges?


Judge Mark Ciavarella, one of the judges at the center of the scandal.

Judge Mark Ciavarella, one of the judges at the center of the scandal.

If you live in Eastern Pennsylvania you’ve likely read about the scandal in Luzerne County where judges received finder’s fees for remanding middle school and high-school students to privately-run juvenile prisons for offenses as trivial as satirizing the vice-principal. It was widely known as “Kids for Cash.”

Robert May’s gut-punch of a documentary of the same name profiles both the students who did time and lost their adolescence in prison and the judges who pocketed $2.7 million for filling the cells. You can read my review here. (The film opens Friday at the Ritz at the Bourse and the Loew’s Cherry Hill and in New York later in February.)

“Dickensian” and “Kafkaesque” are woefully inadequate words to describe the the thousands of juveniles who spent their adolescence behind bars and had an education in criminal injustice. What hits hardest is how May cannily contrasts the students’ “crimes” and punishment with the judges’ felonies and self-justifications.

May’s film is not eligible for an Academy Award this year, but I bet it will be shortlisted for the 2015 awards.  My favorites 2013 docs were Jehane Noujaim’s The Square and Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell. What’s the best nonfiction film you saw last year?


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