"A harrowing tale, lucidly told by a journalist with a good eye for detail. . . . [Kids for Cash reveals] the deep gap between cherished ideals and harsh reality in a country addicted to incarceration."
The New York Times Book Review
"The story is incredible: Thousands of children wrongfully sentenced to juvenile detention centers, many without legal representation and after cursory hearings, by two rogue judges in northern Pennsylvania who received millions of dollars in bribes from the private institutions’ owners. . . . William Ecenbarger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, has brought this stunning story to book form in a deeply researched, compelling tale."
The Boston Globe
"The worst stain (so far) on Pennsylvania, a state with more than its share of stains, is that of the Luzerne County judges who sent thousands of children to private prisons in exchange for millions of dollars in kickbacks. . . . Bill Ecenbarger offers a detail-packed, sickening account of the scandal and its impact. Anyone caring about courts, justice or children should read it."
The Philadelphia Inquirer
"If only this were fiction. William Ecenbarger deserves our gratitude for shining the brightest of spotlights on a tragic, scandalous situation that brought pain and devastation to the lives of countless children and their families. Kids for Cash demands the attention of everyone who cares about justice." Bob Herbert, Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos and former New York Times Op-Ed columnist
"A chilling account of how two Pennsylvania judges traded children's freedom for personal profit while the rest of the Commonwealth looked the other way. Parents will tuck their children in a bit tighter after reading this true-crime heart-stopper." Nell Bernstein, award-winning journalist and author of All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated
"William Ecenbarger exposes Pennsylvania’s recent juvenile justice disgrace wherein thousands of youth were illegally sentenced to a private detention facility in exchange for millions in kickbacks for the judges who sentenced them. His heartfelt, articulate outrage raises disturbing and critical questions about the destructive power of greed in our criminal justice system, and the legal and social systems that support it through silent acquiescence."Tara Herivel, attorney, author and co-editor of Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration and Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America's Poor
"A gripping and inspirational 'must read' for anyone concerned about the health and well-being of children." Liz Ryan, President and CEO of Campaign for Youth Justice
"A gripping story of judicial incompetence, a system that ignored it, and the thousands of kids scarred for lifea story that begs for juvenile justice reform across America." Steven C. Teske, Chief Judge, Juvenile Court of Clayton County, GA, author of Reform Juvenile Justice Now
"An unimaginable story of abuse, greed, and corruption that also reveals the broader problems with our society's failure to protect some of its most vulnerable, powerless, and at-risk membersa critically important book." Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, New York University Professor of Clinical Law
"This exposé of judicial indiscretion, greed, and money laundering reads like a thriller. The setting is the Luzerne County, PA, juvenile court system between 2003 and 2008, when two judges mishandled the criminal cases of thousands of children. After presenting a rather unflattering history of the region, citing a ‘culture of corruption,’ Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist [William] Ecenbarger describes the background and criminal activities that form the heart of the case. The book is based on 200 interviews and reflects the author’s insider knowledge of the scandal, which he covered for the Philadelphia Enquirer. . . . A solid, shocking work of investigative journalism, recommended for civic-minded general readers and students of juvenile justice issues."
This exposé of judicial indiscretion, greed, and money laundering reads like a thriller. The setting is the Luzerne County, PA, juvenile court system between 2003 and 2008, when two judges mishandled the criminal cases of thousands of children. After presenting a rather unflattering history of the region, citing a "culture of corruption," Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ecenbarger describes the background and criminal activities that form the heart of the case. The book is based on 200 interviews and reflects the author's insider knowledge of the scandal, which he covered for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Ecenbarger reviews numerous examples of harsh treatment for minor infractions and violations of juvenile rights granted by the 1967 Supreme Court decision In re Gault. He emphasizes the link between the harsh actions against juveniles in the court system, which tended to have community support, and the major financial gains that private owners of juvenile holding facilities reaped. This book would have been stronger if the actions of other implicated parties had been covered more fully and the analysis broadened into a larger discussion of the pitfalls of government privatization. VERDICT A solid, shocking work of investigative journalism, recommended for civic-minded general readers and students of juvenile justice issues.—Antoinette Brinkman, Evansville, IN
An investigative journalist uncovers the greed and disregard for liberty at the heart of a judicial scandal that had lasting repercussions for children in Pennsylvania. Between 2003 and 2008, Judge Mark A. Ciavarella sentenced thousands of adolescents, many of them first-time offenders, to for-profit treatment centers, often without informing them of their right to counsel. Many in the conservative community not only accepted such mistreatment of juveniles; they wholeheartedly endorsed it. They regarded Ciavarella and his cohorts in the Luzerne County Courthouse as old-fashioned advocates for tough love and zero tolerance. Probation officers, teachers, police and public defenders deferred to a bullying judge who handed down one-size-fits-all sentences while distraught parents watched their children taken away in shackles for minor infractions. Only when a local fraud examiner expressed concern that the judge was taking kickbacks from the treatment centers was a full investigation launched. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Ecenbarger (Walkin' the Line: A Journey from Past to Present Along the Mason-Dixon, 2000) details the travesty from several different perspectives: the juveniles and their parents, the corrupt judge and his cronies, and the officials who brought the case to trial. He also discusses the plight of victims of juvenile misconduct, including a woman who was robbed and beaten by four teenagers; when a judge ruled to expunge the records of all juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella during this period, some dangerous delinquents received a clean slate. Ecenbarger effectively exposes the gray areas of justice and makes a convincing case for why juveniles, even those who commit violent acts, deserve to receive fair trials. He also highlights the pioneering work of Philadelphia's Juvenile Law Center, a nonprofit that played a significant role in ensuring that justice finally prevailed: Ciavarella was convicted on 12 counts of racketeering and money laundering, and he was sentenced to 28 years in prison. Though occasionally dry, this sincere exposé of wrongdoing will appeal to readers interested in social justice, court reform and children's rights.