Part 1: The Luzerne County “Kids for Cash” Scandal

Episode 111

In January 1996, attorney Mark Ciavarella was appointed a Luzerne County judge in Wilkes Barre, PA.  Less than a year later he was made a juvenile judge, a position which according to the Pennsylvania State Juvenile Judge’s Bench Book gave him responsibility for presiding over juvenile cases and overseeing the entire juvenile delinquency program and operations in Luzerne County.  

In 1999 the Juvenile Justice Center of Philadelphia was contacted by the parent of a child in Wilkes Barre whom was sent to a juvenile detention center by Judge Ciavarella without legal representation.  The justice center escalated to the state supreme court and Ciavarella told the state he’d made a mistake, one he’d never make again.

It wasn’t a mistake, it was the M. O. of Ciavarella’s courtroom where between late 1996 and 2008 thousands of kid were sent to juvenile detention centers at a rate twice as high as any other county in Pennsylvania, and usually without legal counsel.   In part one of this two part episode we’ll take about Mark Ciavarella, the children of Wilkes Barre who entered courtroom, only to be ushered out within minutes wearing handcuffs and shackles.  Ciavarella didn’t do this alone – he had help in the form of a fellow judge, a local developer and a wealthy financier who paid Mark Ciavarella kickbacks to keep the bunks full at private juvenile detention facilities.


Research sources for this episode include:

  • Kids for Cash. 2012, by William Ecenbarger; available on Amazon in hardback, paperback or Kindle
  • Kids for Cash documentary, 2014, by Robert May; available for rent or purchase on Amazon Prime Video, rated PG-13
  • The Wilkes Barre Times Leader: 1994 – 2019
  • The Wilkes Barre Citizen’s Voice; 1994 – 2019
  • The Scranton Times Tribune; 1994 – 2019
  • The New York Times; 2009 – 2019
  • CNN Online; 2009 – 2019
  • The Associated Press; 2009 – 2019
  • Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Center
  • The Juvenile Law Center
  • The Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania
  • Democracy Now Online News Program
  • United States Census Bureau, City
  • PA State Juvenile Judge’s Bench Book
  • PA – Juvenile Court Procedures

Thank you to Emmy Cerra forthe music you heard in this episode of TwistedPhilly.  You can find out more about Emmy on her website at and download her music on iTunes. 

TwistedPhilly is part of the bPod Studios Network. bPod is dedicated to curating a diverse collection of audio offerings designed to inspire moments of surprise and delight. For more information about podcasts available on bPod Studios Network, check the website at

Check out the TwistedPhilly merchandise shop.  Tees, bags, mugs, beach towels, multiple designs, colors and styles for the entire family (even onesies for the little twisters.  Onesies also make great dog tees.)

Support TwistedPhilly on Patreon! Get access to exclusive content and podcast swag!