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Juvenile Justice System Corruption: The Kids-for-Cash Scandal

Juvenile Justice System Corruption: The Kids-for-Cash Scandal


Overview of the contents of the work

“Kids for Cash” is a book written on a true shocking story that was covered on many several TV stations such as CBS News, CNN, ABC’s 20/20 in which were two judges were found guilty and convicted of accepting bribes amounting to millions of dollars from the juvenile detention owners that was privatised in exchange to for convicting and sentencing thousands of children to jail.

People also read

The books offer an incisive insidious look of the country’s legal system that is locked out of the scrutiny of the public, and which offers no oversight or little oversight of the judges, and which allowed sentencing of the children without any legal counsel. This opens the eyes of the public on the haunting and the twisted realities of the current American children when they are at school. For the cases in the juvenile justice.

Mark Ciavarella, a former judge of a juvenile court in Luzern County, Pennsylvania, between the year 2002 and 2008, sentenced hundreds of children to jail in exchange for kickback amounting to millions of dollars. Ecenbarger, the author, explored the scandal in an accessible and compelling narrative that weaved together the scandals detail with the Luzern country’s historical context, the profiles of the people involved and also with the disturbing experiences of the youths detained, and the arguments with research of the juvenile justice for reform.

The emerging themes

1. Corruption and greed

Based on his work that was richly researched on the political and historical northeastern Pennsylvanian context, the book explored the corruption history reaching as far back as 19th century, from the school boards to the mining industry. With the legislators and judges befriending the mobsters and the requirement for the teachers to pay as much as $5000 to get employed, under the reign of Ciavarella, corruption was not a new occurrence, but business as usual. The author profiled the former judge, his desire to maintain power and status in the community, his financial woes and the history of his family. Ecenbarger exploration of the past of Ciavarella was fascinating, with his greed nearing on sociopathic, even in the northeastern Pennsylvanian context.

The element of corruption in the book is also seen from the exposed juvenile justice disgrace in Pennsylvania where thousands of kids were sentenced illegally to a private detention facility after the presiding judges received kickbacks. The author’s articulate and heartfelt outrage raise the critical and the disturbing questions about the destructive power of corruption and greed in America’s criminal justice system, and the social and legal systems supporting it through their silent acquiescence. Through corruption and greed, the judges traded the people who have been slaves all their lives will eventually have their freedom. The theme song words describe a following, a movement towards the acquisition of freedom of the youth for their personal profits. From the scandal of kids for cash, Ecenbarger (2012) illustrated vividly that the judges in sentencing the kids to the juvenile jail had a financial interest. So they sent them to jails not necessarily because rehabilitation or justice demanded, but in line with their pockets.

2. Devastating act of incarcerating the youth

During the trial of Ciarvella, Ecenbarger (2012) pointed out that mothers of the children who were victims ganged against the prosecutor who was mainly focusing on the monetary crimes of money laundering and extortion, failing to mention the traumatized children by the former judge’s crimes. There was no child-victim who testified and at the end of the case, Ecenbarger (2012) observed that two jurors were still not aware of the element of “kids for cash” in the scandal until they saw the coverage of the post-trial news. As described by one mother about the trial, “this is not only kids for cash scandal but also kids forgotten” (Ecenbarger, 2012, p. 217).

The “Kids for Cash” book by Ecenbarger (2012) did what the prosecutor failed in doing that is telling the stories of the children. The book is laced with vignettes that are compelling emotionally that profiles the circumstances of the arrest of the children, their stigmatization and traumatic ordeals when they were incarcerated, and their experiences during their trial in the courtrooms. At times dramatic and painful, the vignettes create an emotional connection that is compelling between the reader of the book and the victims as they narrate the paralyzing and persistent trauma the scandal had on their families and the youths involved.

3. Juvenile injustice

In Ciavarella’s courtroom, the due process was a façade. The kids and their families were lured to waive the rights of the kids to counsel. The statistics indicate that in Luzerne, 54.8% of the kids’ waived counsel compared to the rest of Pennsylvanian statistics of 7.4%. Moreover, Ecenbarger (2012) indicated that Luzerne children were also two and a half times more likely to be placed on out of home compared to other states parts

Ecenbarger (2012) also pointed out that the former judge Ciavarella was verbally abusive and inconsiderate to the parents and the youths who appeared before him in his court hears that took less than five minutes routinely. Although there were dozens of witnesses to his courtroom practices, including defense attorneys, prosecutors, law clerks and probation officers, it took about six years before the former judge could be prosecuted for his crimes and removed from the bench.

Subject of the book

The quality of the work (how well it is written and the overall ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of the work to convey the main points/themes)

This paper is of the opinion that the quality of work that Ecenbarger presented in his book was of high quality. The content was well reached and written, and it was generally successful in conveying the main themes or points. After the breaking out of the “kids for cash” scandal, the country, and the community were left dumbfounded and seeking answers. The lingering questions at that time among the people were; “what kind of a person was capable of incarcerating the children callously for kickbacks?”” how was the scandal able to continue for such a long period?” “How many people were involved?” among other questions. Ecenbarger (2012) held the readers in answering these questions.

However, when emphasizing on the main theme of the devastation felt by the victims during the incarceration of the kids in the “kids for cash” scandal, the author juxtaposes repeatedly the victimized “good kids” with the “bad kids” that awaited them in the juvenile detention centers. Ecenbarger wrote that some girls were tough at the camp and were teenagers from the inner city convicted for violent crimes. However, others were also in the detention camp for stealing the credit cards of the fathers to purchase clothes and for bringing pocket knives unintentionally to school (Ecenbarger, 2012, p.9). Similarly, the author wrote that “there was no sinister gang that inspired Paige who is fifteen years old to throw a sandal to her mother when they had an argument…Paige did not understand why she was being interned at the detention camp with prostitutes, drug traffickers and burglars” (Ecenbarger, 2012, p. 99-100).

From the book, it is enticing to draw the distinction between the bad and the good to justify the sympathy of the readers for the harmed children by the scandal. However, this dichotomy is often radicalized and has been harmful when used in justifying the punitive and harsh responses to the supposed bad children in the juvenile detention. Ecenbarger himself recognized this negative portrayal of the youths in the juvenile justice system by discussing the public’s apathy towards the violations of the due process in the court proceedings presided over by Ciavarella before the surfacing of the monetary corruption.

“Some of the responses that are muted (to the news of Ciavarella’s court injustices in 2004) had a connection with the public perception that is flawed about the general juvenile justice in specifically the juvenile offenders, with the stories about young predators and youth gangs that dominates the news outside the juvenile court. In fact, of the juvenile arrests, only about 5% are for serious crimes like rape and murder. The majority of offenses committed by young people are alcohol and drug abuse, vandalism and property crimes” (Ecenbarger, 2012, p. 75-76).

Based on that recognition, it was ironical for the author to flow with the same narrative he has acknowledged as negative.

However, in overall the book of “kids for cash” is a riveting expose that brings out the need for reforms in the juvenile justice system that can be described as a system gone awry. The author incorporated seamlessly reform arguments and a plea for good practices by pointing out the things that did not work in Luzerne and suggesting what are known to work best with the kids.

The book also examined adolescent’s psychological development and also provides critiques to policies of zero tolerance and the pipeline of school to prison. Ecenbarger (2012) believes that that evidence that support diversion and community-based services are much more effective in recidivism reduction compared to incarceration. Similarly, he considers research that illustrate the net negative effects of youth incarceration, arguments that discourage shackling, fiscal arguments for the reaction of incarceration of the youth, and the significance of due process protections and quality representations for the accused youths for the crime.

The Luzerne youths who were prosecuted for petty crimes are the same behaviors that thousands of youths in the country and different states are prosecuted daily, but disproportionately on the skin color of the youths. By highlighting the harsh treatment of the kids of Luzerne in high-profile context, Ecenbarger revealed what usually happen every day in American courtrooms when the judges and the prosecutors do not understand the connection between the delinquency and the adolescent development and the youths accused are denied the guaranteed basic procedural protections by the country’s constitution.

Lastly, the book of “kids for cash” is a wake-up call to action. What enabled the scandal to succeed so long was the good peoples appalling silence. The prosecutor, the public defender, the judicial conduct board, the clerks, teachers and the probation officers were all complicit in the crimes of Ciavarella.by routinely violating the rights of the youths in his courtroom through insufficient fact-finding, illegal guilty pleas, illegal attorney waivers and illegal detention, Ciavarella, the former judge ran a kangaroo court. As the author pointed out, the people should have exposed him or spoken up even before the monetary bribery surfaced. The author also calls upon every justice system member to be an advocate and watchdog for justice (Ecenbarger, 2012).


My action thoughts, responses and reactions to the book. These should relate to the content/themes identified

After critically and thoroughly reading the “kids for cash” book that reads like a thriller and authored by Ecenbarger, I believe that the write-up exposed judicial money laundering, greed, and indiscretion. This is a shocking and solid work of journalism that is recommended for the students and general readers who are civic minded on issues of juvenile justice.

From the identified themes of corruption, greed and abuse, I believe that the book revealed the broader problems with the failure of our society in protecting some of at risk, powerless and vulnerable members. Similarly, the book brought out our judicial incompetence, thousands of scared children for their lives and the ignored justice system. The appalling silence of people who should watchdog of the juvenile justice system is worrying. The gripping story begs for reforms in the juvenile justice across the United States.

Similarly, I would say if the book of “kids for cash” was a fiction, then Ecenbarger deserves to be given much gratitude for exposing a scandalous and tragic situation that brought devastation and pain to the lives to many families and children. This book demands attention from any anyone who cares about the juvenile justice and justice system as a whole. The story is incredible, and Ecenbarger brought the stunning story in a deeply compelling and researched harrowing tale. It is evident that the book revealed the deep gap between the harsh reality and cherished ideals in a country that is so addicted to incarceration.

The critical evaluation of the intersection of ethics and policy throughout the work

Ethics involves defending, systematizing and recommending the concepts of wrong and right conduct. It has to do with the feelings and what it tells a person whether it is wrong or right. Being ethical also means doing what is required by law and with an individual’s religious beliefs. On the other hand, the policy is a system of principles that guide decisions to achieve an outcome that are rational. Similarly, the policy can be defined as a set of basic guidelines and principles that have been formulated and are enforced by an entity, government or a governing organization, to limit and direct its actions in pursuit of long-term goals.

From the analysis of the book of Kids for cash, it is evident that Ethics and policies intersected on several occasion in the book of kids for cash. However, the actions and decisions of the former judge were not ethically sound, nor did he follow the laid down principles. The judges had an ethical obligation of seeing the justice was delivered. That is also enshrined in the Code of Professional Responsibility. However, it is evident that the judges failed to adhere to that code too. The probation officers saw the youths being sentenced for minor issues. While the whole country was in the opinion of de-incarceration of the juvenile justice system, treat the kids in the community, in the courtroom of Judge Ciavarella it was contrary. He believed that the kids should be incarcerated and one after the other, they were dragged to detention (Ecenbarger, 2012)).

The issue of zero tolerance policy was another thing intercepted with ethics in the book. Ecenbarger (2012) indicated that came in the 1990s and it has been misused, especially by administrators by illegitimately dealing with some schools trivial offenses to get rid of the students that they did not like in their classrooms. The zero tolerance policy was being applied without fairness, incorrectly and with implications for ethnic and racial disparities in the system, in a manner that was hurting the kids. The intersection of the policy and the ethics is evident it the usage of this particular policy. As much as zero tolerance policy was enforced to offer guidance on basic principles, its misuse was ethically wrong. Moreover, 20 years ago what seems reasonable when zero tolerance policy was enacted, has turned out to be unreasonable remarkably and also unfair to the kids, their families, and the community.

Former judges Conohan and Ciavarella were not alone in applying the zero tolerance policy in covering up for the constitutional perpetration and ethical violations with regard to the kids who were taken to the juvenile court. The district attorney and his deputies, juvenile probation officers, chief public defendant and another court of Commons judges were also derelicts in their vigilance obligation. Their zero tolerance acceptability allowed these functionaries of the court to ignore these judges behavior. For instance, when the chief public defender appeared before the inter-branch Commission he said that the hard-line policy of Ciavarella was not seen as improper or irregular in part because the former judge read the statements often from the parents, young people and teachers thanking him for his rulings that were tough. The chief defender further stated that in the community, zero tolerance was very popular, and so they had no choice but to live with it. This shows how the application of the policy disregarded ethics, and the judges believed that they were ethically right by pleasing those who believed in his rulings (Ecenbarger, 2012).

Another essential thing that the book of kids for cash is its questioning of the readers whether the former judges missed on judicial ethics in their greed for financial profits. The judges misused the laid down policies and ignored judicial ethics to send the kids to juvenile jails for sketchy reasons.


In conclusion, the paper analyzed the book of Kids for Cash written by William Ecenbarger. The paper first provided an overview of the books networking leads to connections of bad groups. (George 1989) commented that these groups end up sharing information that has no good content, discussed the emerging themes, the subject, and the quality of work of the book. The story revolves around a convicted judge Ciavarella who sentenced kids in hundreds to a juvenile court after receiving a kickback from the developers of a juvenile detention camp. The emerging themes identified from the books is corruption and greed, devastation experienced by the sentenced kids and their families, and juvenile injustices on the convicted youths. The paper also found that the work of the author was of high quality because the way it was written it successfully convened the main points and themes in the book. On the second part of the paper, I believe that the book was well documented and offers an insidious look at the judicial system that is blocked from the public scrutiny. Moreover, the books are good for the people who have an interest in the juvenile judicial system and should act as an eye-opener to the people. Ethics and policy also interacted in the book on several occasions as the paper evaluated the policies from an ethical standpoint.


Ecenbarger, W. (2012). Kids for cash: Two judges, thousands of children, and a $2.8 million kickback scheme. New York: New Press.

William Ecenbarger is an award-winning investigative journalist who has won George Polk and Pulitzer Prize award. The author exposed a political controversy that is deeply compelling that ruined many children’s lives and which led to the conviction of the judges ultimately on charges of bribery, extortion, money laundering, tax violations, fraud, and racketeering. This book is based on a true crime story that can also be described as legal thrillers. The author described the criminal activities, and the background forms the heart of the case. The information on the book was sourced from 200 interviews that included the victim children, their families, the convicted judges and other relevant stakeholders, and it mirrors the insider knowledge of the author on the scandal, which he covered.

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