Inthe documentary titled, Kids for Cash,there is direct controversy concerning whether or not juveniles were receiving vigoroussentences for minor violations committed either on school property or withinthe community. Parents were faced with witnessing their child being prosecutedand arrested for minor infractions, such as, throwing a punch in school, creatinga fake Myspace page, or cursing at another student’s mother. To make mattersworse, Luzerne County judgeMark Ciavarella was the leading cause behind this scandal as he implementedtough sentences in return for financial kickbacks. Ciavarella enforced therules like any other judge; however, he implemented harsh punishments onadolescent children who made slight mistakes in reform to abolish any type of misbehaviorfrom happening in Luzerne County. Ciavarella’s grand decision would end upreckoning families lives in a domino effect in this juvenile corruption scandalfrom 2003-2008. Ciavarellaadopted a zero-tolerance policy toward juvenile crime in the schools, which metwith the approval of school authorities and the community, and routinely failedto properly effectuate juveniles’ right to counsel, resulting in adisproportionately high detention rate compared to the rest of the state (Gray,2010).
Ciavarella strategically partnered with his colleague, judge MichaelConahan, in an ultimate plot to receive more than two million dollars in bribesand kickbacks from thebuilder and co-owner of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detentioncenters. The scandal accelerated rapidly as Ciavarella placed these children onthe stand in a court of law wavering their rights to effectively obtain alawyer and receive a fair trial. Specifically, the problem most of thesechildren encountered was that they never encountered a life changing experiencelike this before, which meant when Ciavarella commanded them to sign documents,they blatantly signed them hoping that this disaster would be resolved in thefuture guaranteeing their liberty. Unfortunately, the miscommunication andmisguidance embedded them deeper into the juvenile criminal justice system asthey unintentionally waivered their rights away to receive a lawyer. It’s apparent thatCiavarella effectively enforced the law within Luzerne County compared to therest of the state of Pennsylvania; however, he conducted his job in a way thatselfishly benefited himself by obtaining cash illicitly. Judge Ciavarella included judges,prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and even parents in this regime topromote this belief of a “zero tolerance” attitude in Luzerne County. Thissuperior attitude soon dominated educational systems with probation officers havingtheir own office within the school district to strictly monitor the behaviorand attitudes of the children at all times. Corruption flourished the communityas law enforcement officers intentionally started to place drug paraphernalia throughbribery.
For example, Kenzakoski was diagnosed with ADDbefore he was 10 and drinking by 14, and his parents were so worried about himthat his father developed a plan to scare him straight. Alongwith two police officer buddies, Kenzakoski’s father planted a marijuana pipein the boy’s truck, hoping he would be arrested and turned around after aconfrontation with the authorities (Getlen, 2014). Shortly after, Kenzakowskiwas incarcerated as Ciavarella placed him behind bars without any detection ofcorruption being witnessed by the community.
In order toensure integrity, I believe that there should have been sting operationsimplemented on figures of high authority within the criminal justice system,rather than on civilians that allegedly cost them their future as juveniles. Bypromoting these tactics, no only would these individuals be simmered out oftheir profession due to their corruption and lack of integrity, but this wouldhave been a prime example that every profession has its percentage ofindividuals that aren’t suitable for the job. This ultimately makes the policeofficers, judges, prosecutors, and contractors that pushed this effort of “kidsfor cash” into full affect look like the real criminals, instead of sendingjuveniles to jail, that didn’t even commit a lucrative offense to society. Thesefigures could have owned up responsibly through communication and told theirsuperior that such actions were going on behind doors that the public doesn’twitness. Instead, after neglecting the issue and being persuaded to be part ofthis scheme, these figures that were once looked up to as role models wereintentionally participating in placing these juveniles behind bars in order toseek financial benefits with Ciavarella paving the way. Prosecutors were persuaded underjurisdiction of Ciavarella leaving no margin for error to allow these kids thepotential for a fair trial. The civilians of Luzerne County adopted Ciavarella’sphilosophy as a type of deterrence that would benefit the community. As thenumbers of children on trial for punishment exponentially multiplied, theimbalance of justice started to be questioned from outside sources.
Forexample, Hillary Transue was sent away in 2007 forcreating a MySpace page about her vice principal. She was released three weekslater after the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center intervened andultimately helped get thousands of Ciavarella’s juvenile convictions expungedbecause the children didn’t have lawyers representing them (Schwartz, 2008). Thismeaningless prank Hillary committed as an adolescent prank shocked her motheras to why her daughter would receive a criminal sentence. There was no physicalharm made towards the principal by Hillary except the creation of a fictitiousaccount mimicking her principle as any other child would. Ciavarelladidn’t find any humor in Hillary’s actions and teamed up with judges andprosecutors, just like any other juvenile case to reprimand her in such a waythat it would cost Hillary her future.
Hillary’s mother was forced to sign”legal documents” provided by the court under Ciavarella’s discretion, waveringher rights to a fair trial by excusing the presence of a lawyer. Therefore,Hillary was destined for failure without legal representation, translating toanother juvenile statistic of Ciavarella in return for a financialcompensation. If Hillary were my daughter I wouldn’t trust going about thisprocess alone if my loved one was previously innocent and a presently a criminaltoday due to Ciavarella’s misjudgment of tolerating mistakes made by juveniles.
I would seek outside help and find the best lawyer possible before I even reador signed any documentation. I cannot entirely blame Hillary’s mother becauseshe thought that by signing the document, that this minor offense would vanishas this piece of documentation guaranteed Hillary her liberty through theircooperation. However, this waivered her right to council and justified that thecriminal justice system could legally take advantage of Hillary in any waypossible. With Ciavarella’s discretion as a judge, he placed her behind bars inone of his malnourished facilities like any other of his victims. Amanda was another victim ofCiavarella’s grand scheme as she was sentenced to five years in the juvenilejustice system for acting out on school property. Specifically, she wasarrested and charged with aggravated assault as she fought a girl in schoolduring gym class. This experience had a tragic effect on Amanda as she wasrobbed the opportunity to learn and grow from the age of fourteen as she wasbehind bars facing depression with guilt of a convict. However, this incidentshould have never surpassed the administrative perspective within theeducational system as this fight wasn’t great enough to be a criminalpunishment.
Ciavarella didn’t tolerate and form of violence and sentencedAmanda to confinement as she could think long and hard for assaulting the othergirl. With a lack composure, Amanda was faced with PTSD after weeping inremorse for years in hope that one-day things would work out for herself. Her family’sopportunity to make memories with Amanda were torn with despair as she wasn’tpresent for five years. As a whole, Amanda and her family suffered immensely asthey were separated for a long period of time due to Ciavarella’s demeanor intolerating crime, which devastated the community in a greater note as parentswere losing their children to the juvenile justice system. The community triedto combat this evil sorcery as justice was not being served with the fullintegrity it was meant to abide by. The changesthat need to be made to the juvenile justice system are the implementation of lessstrict laws because the law has to take into consideration that children underthe age of eighteen are still juveniles destined to make mistakes. These minorinfractions should not cost them their future over simple judgements; however,there should be programs like community service and workshops to unify theseindividuals into adults.
Overall, Ciavarella was part of oneof the most subliminal financial schemes in the nation as he sentenced childrento juvenile detention facilities in return for cash. This scam damaged thecommunity of Luzerne County as it placed children behind bars for committingminor violations. Ciavarella denied ever trading “kids for cash” in thecommunity, lacking his ability to be a stable role model as a judge withintegrity. He was sentenced to twenty-eight yearsin prison and was mandated to pay $965,000 back in restitution. References Getlen, L. (2014). Corrupt ‘Kids for Cash’ judge ruined morethan 2,000 lives.
Gray, C. (2010). Report and recommendations issued in”kids for cash” scandal. Judicature, 93(6),255-255,260.Schwartz, R. (2008).
Juvenile Law Center to investigateirregularities in Pennsylvania’s Luzerne Countyjuvenile court.