Kids for Cash (2014)



Critic Consensus: Dispassionately presented yet frequently enraging, Kids for Cash uses the fallout from one horrific scandal to offer a thought-provoking critique of the justice system in general.

Movie Info

Kids For Cash is a riveting look behind the notorious judicial scandal that rocked the nation. Beyond the millions paid and high stakes corruption, Kids For Cash exposes a shocking American secret. In the wake of the shootings at Columbine, a small town celebrates a charismatic judge who is hell-bent on keeping kids in line...until one parent dares to question the motives behind his brand of justice. This real life thriller reveals the untold stories of the masterminds at the center of the … More

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material and language)
Genre: Documentary, Drama, Special Interest
Directed By:
In Theaters:
On DVD: Dec 21, 2014
Box Office: $36.6k
Sen Art Films Releasing Inc. - Official Site


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Critic Reviews for Kids for Cash

All Critics (35) | Top Critics (17)

A vital, urgent and infuriating look at the devastating failures of the juvenile court system and the insidious reach of prison privatization.

Full Review… | March 6, 2014
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

In his directorial debut, Robert May examines in granular detail the causes and effects of the scandal, and interviewed dozens of people over a number of years.

Full Review… | March 6, 2014
Washington Post
Top Critic

May errs, however, in styling this human interest saga.

Full Review… | February 28, 2014
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

A carefully measured, admirably precise account of this sordid business.

Full Review… | February 28, 2014
Top Critic

This provides enough valuable information to constitute a worthy public service announcement.

Full Review… | February 27, 2014
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Without sensationalizing his already scandalous material, Mr. May arranges the contributions of reporters, lawyers and anguished relatives of young offenders into a shocking and impartial portrait of justice denied and childhoods erased.

Full Review… | February 27, 2014
New York Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Kids for Cash


Nothing can get the blood boiling more than the notorious Kids for Cash scandal, in which a Juvenille Court Judge allegedly sent countless kids to lock-up for very minor offenses in exchange for a financial kickback. This documentary seeks to give a broader view to the scandal, and presents a well argued critique about the juvenile justice system.

What is most unique about Kids for Cash are the interviews they secured from the judges in question, namely Mark Ciavarella. Civararella argues passionately that, while he improperly took money, that is was not a quid pro quo. In light of evidence, this seems dubious, but the documentary is more than even-handed. What I liked most was the interviews with the parents and kids that were affected, set against those that argue for senseless policies such as "zero tolerance". The result is a compelling piece, well structured and maturely executed.

Where the film could have been stronger, however, is in the examination of private prisons themselves. They inherently lead to corruption and represent a system in which there is a built in incentive for incarceration.

3.5/5 Stars

Jeffrey Meyers
Jeffrey Meyers

Super Reviewer


Ripped from the national headlines, this locally bred American Horror Story makes for a ridiculously engrossing documentary even if though it leaves an ill feeling in the pit of your stomach by proxy. Sadly, the true events prove too unbelievable to be mistaken for a narrative film--despicably stranger than fiction. The fact that Pennsylvania's justice system became a Draconian super villain to children would almost be deemed too melodramatic if sold as a drama. The staggering facts play out almost like a Dickensian tragedy, which makes this subject and its subjects well worth documenting. And aside from some stylistic gaffes, the documentation gets expertly presented.

This R-rated documentary looks behind the notorious judicial scandal that rocked the nation, exposing a shocking American secret where millions got paid and the justice system got waylaid.

Robert May produced amazing films from both the narrative (The Station Agent) and documentary realm (The Fog of War). These experiences obviously provided a brilliant training ground for shooting hundreds of hours of interview footage, securing actual news coverage, and compiling them both into an informational but digestible piece of pop culture. When the mother of a deceased victim confronts Judge Mark Ciavarella on the steps of a Federal courthouse, it comes as a jaw-dropping climax more powerful than something Herman Mankiewicz (Pride of the Yankees, Citizen Kane) could even craft-all because it smartly comes at the precisely perfect moment of running time. Of course, there are the missteps. To offset the monotonousness of watching endless interview footage, a child's constructions - paper dolls amid a cardboard suburb - gets integrated. At first, it perfectly offsets the very real tragedy of victimized youth. Then, when integrated too prominently and far too long during some segments, this device starts to lay this editorial voice on too thick. Also, the film leaves audiences with multiple codas, statistics well worth first. The first three provide the perfect dropping off point for further inspection. But then, the information overload nauseum. This statistical glut almost derails the whole experience.

Bottom line: Children of a Lesser Judge

Jeff B.
Jeff Boam

Super Reviewer

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