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State Theatre to Highlight Juvenile Justice System with Film Screening, Panel Discussion

by on April 24, 2014 1:55 PM

It was a scandal that received national attention: Judges accused of receiving millions of dollars in exchange for sending more than 3,000 non-violent juveniles to private detention centers.

And the scandal was close to home.

In 2009, Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan in Luzerne County pleaded guilty to charges stemming from them receiving more than $2.8 million in exchange for sentencing juveniles to privately owned detention centers.

Robert May, a documentary filmmaker with SenArt Films who lives in Luzerne County, watched the scandal unfold and decided to document the criminal process for the judges as well as the impact the judges orders had on the children they incarcerated along with their families.

"The goal is to both entertain, and it does that, as well as expose the way that kids are treated and not just in Luzerne County, but everywhere," May told "The take away from audiences is sort of shock, like a punch in the gut, and people are very motivated to want to do something when they leave the theater."

On Friday there will be a special screening of the film "Kids for Cash" at the State Theatre in State College. The event will include a discussion panel featuring May, some of the children featured in the film, along with Centre County Common Pleas Judge Bradley Lunsford, Executive Director of Nets4Nets Jay Paterno and Juvenile Law Center attorney Emily Keller.

While the film focuses on one case in Pennsylvania, May says the film shows how the juvenile justice system is flawed across the country, including here in Pennsylvania.

For example, despite the high profile scandal in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania was still one of only six states that saw an increase in the number of juveniles incarcerated between 2001 and 2010, according to a study by the Juvenile Justice Network and Texas Public Policy Foundation.

May acknowledges state lawmakers have made some changes in Pennsylvania, like stopping children from being handcuffed and shackled in most cases and requiring juveniles to have an attorney when they go before a judge.

Still, May says there is more to be done. May hopes the film will motivate Pennsylvania lawmakers to further change the system by reexamining the for-profit juvenile detention centers in the state and mandate evidence-based juvenile programs instead of sentencing children to detention for an indefinite period of time.

"I do think the system is still broken," May says.

For more information on the Kids for Cash screening, click HERE.


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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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