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

Episode 80 – Originally Released July 2019

Content warning: this episode includes discussions about emotional and physical abuse of children, unlawful incarceration, and death because of suicide. Listener discretion is advised.

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

TwistedPhilly is researched, hosted, and produced by me, Deana Marie, and available biweekly wherever you listen to podcasts. Follow me on Tiktok and Instagram at twistedphilly to see many of the locations and histories I discuss in the show.