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Kids for Cash: Two Judges, Thousands of Children, and a $2.8 Million Kickback Schemeby William Ecenbarger
Synopses & Reviews
When thirteen-year-old Matthew appeared in front of Judge Mark Ciavarella for throwing a piece of steak at his mothers boyfriend, he was sentenced to seven weeks at PA Child Care, a private, for-profit juvenile detention center in northeastern Pennsylvania. Angelia was fourteen when she and a friend scrawled Vote for Michael Jackson” on five stop signs. Charged with vandalism and defacing public property, Angelia was sent by Ciavarella to PA Child Care without her epilepsy medication and suffered a grand mal seizure her second night. Fifteen-year-old Charlie, arrested for unknowingly purchasing a stolen motorbike, was convicted of a felony and sent to PA Child Care for six weeks.
Matthew, Angelia, and Charlie are just three children among the thousands who appeared in Ciavarellas courtroom between 2003 and 2008 and were sent away—often with no attorney present and after only cursory hearings—to a detention facility in which, it later came to light, Ciavarella had a personal financial stake. As Kids for Cash reveals, this miscarriage of justice underscores a multitude of problems with our juvenile justice system, which too often criminalizes standard adolescent behavior, treats adolescents more harshly than if they were adults, and denies them their most fundamental constitutional rights.
William Ecenbarger, a Pulitzer Prize and George Polk Award–winning investigative journalist who covered the case for the Philadelphia Inquirer, now gives us the first book-length account of this shocking story. In the tradition of true-crime legal thrillers from The Executioners Song to A Civil Action, Ecenbarger exposes a deeply corrupt and broken system that ruined the lives of many children and ultimately led to the judges conviction on charges of racketeering, fraud, tax violations, money laundering, extortion, and bribery. Fastidiously researched and utterly propulsive, Kids for Cash takes us deep inside a profoundly flawed legal system, revealing the twisted and haunting realities of Americas juvenile justice system.
"Pulitzer-winning journalist Ecenbarger spares no detail in recounting how two rural Pennsylvania judges' schemed to incarcerate thousands of kids in a privately owned juvenile detention center in exchange for millions in kickbacks. In famously corrupt Luzerne County, juvenile court judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan lobbied for the building of a new juvenile detention center. From 2003 to 2008, Ciavarella then funneled thousands of kids — including nonviolent and first-time offenders — into the new center. In return both he and Conahan were receiving millions of carefully laundered dollars. More troubling was the system's abuse of the children (some as young as 11). Local newspaper reports led to state and federal investigations, and the judges were convicted of racketeering. Ecenbarger lays out the details of the case, emphasizing the very human element of the children who were the victims. Agent: Anita Bartholomew. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Covered widely in the national media by ABCs 20/20, CNN, CBS News, and Democracy Now, here for the first time, the full story of how two judges, Mark A. Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan, accepted millions of dollars in bribes from the owners of privatized juvenile detention centers, in exchange for sentencing thousands of kids, some as young as 11 years old, to their facilities.
William Ecenbarger, a Pulitzer Prize and George Polk Award-winning investigative journalist, previously reported on the scandal extensively in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Now, in a daring new book, he takes a hard look at some shocking truths: the trend toward sentencing offenders to for-profit prisons and detention centers; a politicized judiciary where judges campaign contributions often come from those whose profits and livelihoods depend on filling jails and prisons; and a juvenile justice system that is closed to public scrutiny, offers little or no oversight of judges, and allows children to be sentenced without benefit of legal counsel.
Through deeply compelling personal narratives tied together by an astonishing legal and political controversy that lead to charges of racketeering, fraud, tax violations, money laundering, extortion, and bribery, Ecenbarger explores the larger issues that made this situation possible. Kids for Cash will open our eyes to the haunting realities of the juvenile justice system in America.
About the Author
William Ecenbarger was part of a reporting team at the Philadelphia Inquirer that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. Once an international correspondent for Readers Digest, he has been published in the Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, and other leading publications and magazines. A longtime resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he currently lives in Castine, Maine.
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History and Social Science » Crime » Prisons and Prisoners