Kids for Cash: Two Judges, Thousands of Children, and a $2.6 Million Kickback Scheme

. October 2012. 288p. 978-1-59558-684-1. 26.95.
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.

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