PA scandal makes it to the big screen in “Kids for Cash”

CORRECTION: PublicSource reported that Terrie Morgan-Besecker covered the story for the Scranton Times-Tribune. She covered the story for the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre.

“Kids for Cash,” a documentary that details the Luzerne County scheme that funneled children convicted of petty crimes into for-profit detention centers, opens in theaters today.

The scheme, which sent thousands of kids to detention centers between 2003 and 2008, grabbed national headlines, ultimately landing judges Mark Ciavarella, Jr. and Michael Conahan in prison.

PublicSource’s media partner, WHYY in Philadelphia, spoke with “Kids for Cash” filmmaker and others in an hourlong interview on “Radio Times,” a program hosted by Marty Moss-Coane.

Filmmaker Robert May told Moss-Coane that in total, they shot 600 hours of interviews with the judges and families, and that the corruption behind what happened could have taken place anywhere.

“Corruption, you know, is kind of in our DNA,” May said. “Unless it happens to them, no one seems to care about it."

Laurene Transue, whose daughter had been sent to a juvenile detention center, told Moss-Coane that this film helped to give kids like her daughter a voice.

“If these kids had been listened to right from the beginning, and gotten the support they needed, their lives would have been so different."

Marsha Levick, deputy director of the Juvenile Law Center, was also part of the interview.

"Scandal is what pulls us all in. That's the sexy piece of the story, but there's a much bigger story there. And part of that story is thinking about kids’ rights, and how they should be treated and respected in the courtroom. But it’s also a story about what happens in the juvenile justice system every day across the country. And I think that the film is a doorway into that, and really the beginning of that conversation."

Reporter Terrie Morgan-Besecker, of the Scranton Times-Tribune, extensively covered the story for the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre.

“There have been some significant changes in the juvenile justice system here that grew out of this,” Morgan-Besecker said. “But we still need to have people watching. We need the watchdogs out there to make sure that something like this doesn't happen again."

In Pittsburgh, “Kids for Cash” will be screened in theaters on Feb. 21. Visit kidsforcashthemovie.com for more details.

Click here to listen to the full audio interview on WHYY’s website.