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Kids for Cash: The Shocking Scandal That Rocked The Nation

A shocking exploration of the notorious 'Kids for Cash' scandal that unveils the dark side of the American juvenile justice system.

Keywords: Kids for Cash, USA, Judicial Scandal, Juvenile Justice, Corruption, Misuse of Power, Robert May, Documentary


"Kids for Cash" is a compelling documentary directed by Robert May, released in 2013. The film takes a deep dive into one of the most notorious judicial scandals in the United States, an unethical scheme that exploited children for financial gain. In today's context, where debates about juvenile justice and prison reform are prevalent, "Kids for Cash" provides an unsettling look at the dark side of the justice system.


"Kids for Cash" unravels the disturbing story of two Pennsylvania judges who were accused of accepting money in return for sending thousands of children to a privately-owned juvenile detention center. May’s documentary unravels the scandal layer by layer, showcasing interviews with the affected children and their families, as well as one of the implicated judges.

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The documentary adopts an investigative approach, meticulously examining court transcripts, private communications, and interviews to provide a comprehensive picture of the scandal. The level of research and depth of subject exploration is commendable, providing viewers an intimate look at the lives shattered by the scandal.

Historical and Factual Context


The "Kids for Cash" scandal took place in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, in 2008. Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were accused of receiving kickbacks from Robert Mericle, the developer of two private juvenile detention centers. This resulted in an unprecedented number of children being sentenced to these facilities, often for minor offences.

Key themes in the film

  • Misuse of power and corruption
  • The flaws of the American juvenile justice system
  • The impact of punishment on children's lives

Film Comparisons

Unlike other films on iWonder that explore the flaws in the justice system, "Kids for Cash" stands out due to its focus on juvenile justice and the shocking corruption that exploited children for financial gain.

Noteworthy Moments

One of the most significant moments in the documentary is the chilling courtroom scene where one of the judges defends his actions, showcasing the depth of his denial and lack of remorse.


The documentary was well-received by audiences and critics alike, with The New York Times noting that it was "a shocking look at judicial corruption."


"Kids for Cash" is a thought-provoking documentary that offers a stark look at corruption and the misuse of power within the juvenile justice system. It is a must-watch for anyone interested in social justice, law, and child advocacy.

More film information:


  • IMDB score: 7.1
  • Rotten Tomatoes score: N/A
  • Metacritic score: N/A
  • Film festival awards: N/A



  • Judge Mark Ciavarella: One of the judges implicated in the scandal
  • Judge Michael Conahan: The other judge involved in the scandal
  • Robert Mericle: The developer of the private juvenile detention centers



  • Luzerne County, Pennsylvania
  • The private juvenile detention centers

Key questions raised by the film:

  • How can the justice system prevent such egregious abuses of power?
  • What reforms are needed to protect children within the justice system?

I wonder what the film would be in another art form

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  1. A famous book, it would be "To Kill a Mockingbird" due to its exploration of a flawed justice system.
  2. A famous song, it would be "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan, questioning societal injustices.
  3. A famous piece of art, it would be Picasso’s "Guernica", depicting the chaos and suffering caused by corruption.
  4. A famous celebrity, it would be Edward Snowden, known for revealing uncomfortable truths.
  5. A colour, it would be grey, symbolizing the moral ambiguity and bleakness of the situation.
  6. A music style, it would be blues, reflecting the sadness and despair experienced by the victims.

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All 193 United Nations member countries have ratified the convention on the Rights of the Child…except Somalia and the United States. Told through the eyes of both victims and villains, Kids For Cash exposes a shocking American secret—a notorious judicial scandal that found corrupt judges sending ch…