The Luzerne County “Kids for Cash” Scandal: Part 2

Episode 81 – 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.

NOTE: If you have not yet listened to part 1, pause this episode and listen to part 1 first.

Judge Mark Ciavarella sent thousands of children from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, to juvenile detention centers for infractions that in many cases might have landed them in after school detention. But even the school districts preferred his heavy handed “zero tolerance” policies about juvenile crime. Instead of calling someone’s parents, schools often called the police, and contributed to the funnel that kept the state’s juvenile detention centers full, especially two centers: PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care.

Over a period of years in the early to mid 2000s, judge Mark Ciavarella, and president judge Michael Conahan, accepted over $2.6 million in “finder’s fees” from the developers of two private detention centers. While they claimed this wasn’t a bribe, they entered into a placement agreement with these facilities, one that cost the state millions more and cost many children in Wilkes Barre, PA, their futures.

In 2009 Ciavarella and Conahan, along with others whom we’ll discuss in this episode, were charged with racketeering and conspiracy. They had a plea agreement in place which would have landed them in jail for about 7 years, but Ciavarella refused to accept the idea he took money to detain kids. And that refusal cost both him and Mike Conahan their plea deal.

In this episode we’ll talk about the indictments and trials, Ciavarella’s attempt earlier this year to garner a new trial, and you’ll hear more about children who were deeply affected by placement in juvenile detention at the hands of judge Mark Ciavarella.

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.