Rotten Tomatoes

Movies / TV


      No Results Found

      View All
      Movies Tv shows Shop News Showtimes

      Kids for Cash

      Released Feb 7, 2014 1 hr. 42 min. Documentary Crime Drama List
      92% 36 Reviews Tomatometer 74% 2,500+ Ratings Audience Score Filmmaker Robert May chronicles the case of a once-respected judge who received kickbacks for sending juvenile offenders to prison, even for minor crimes. Read More Read Less

      Where to Watch

      Kids for Cash

      Prime Video Apple TV

      Rent Kids for Cash on Prime Video, Apple TV, or buy it on Prime Video, Apple TV.

      Kids for Cash

      What to Know

      Critics 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.

      Read Critics Reviews

      Audience Reviews

      View All (37) audience reviews
      Audience Member A devastating stories that could happen to anyone. Coldly presented without picking a side. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 02/07/23 Full Review Audience Member Eye opening. I was hesitant to watch since knowing about corrupt facets of society angers me .... and I was right but I feel more aware and its worth watching. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 01/30/23 Full Review Audience Member It is one of the most disturbing stories of just how greedy and corrupt people can truly be. In 2000, Luzerne County Pennsylvania needed a new Juvenile detention facility, but couldn't afford it, so they privatized it. Leading the group that won the contract, were two of their own Juvenile court judges. That alone was a grey area, but not the issue. Soon, the judges learned that the more occupants the jail had, the more money the facility would receive from the state. So, despite the law, which requires juvenile offenders to be sentenced to the least restrictive environment possible, kids as young as thirteen, with no previous record, were being sent to JV for very minor offenses. As a result, the facility was receiving millions from the states, which the judges were embezzling. As the scandal unfolded, this documentary was filmed and shockingly, both judges agreed to be a part of it, claiming they were always tough on juvenile crime and had done nothing wrong. Judges never comment on cases and defendants are always advised not to talk to the media, but for some reason these judges did, and the way they justify their actions is truly sickening. There is even one scene where a mother confronts one of the judges outside of court house, holding a picture. She says to him, this is my son, he was fifteen when you put him in jail for drinking some beers and fighting with other teens. He served three years and within six months of being released he killed himself, and that's your fault. The judge could care less, it was truly amazing. The documentary is an eye opener and it follows the scandal through the family and offenders stories, through the investigation, right up through the trial and outcome, it really something to see. The whole thing really makes me wonder, if judges can be swayed that easily, just how corrupt is this country and how many truly innocent people are there sitting in jail or on a list somewhere, all because someone was paid to put them there? Rated 4 out of 5 stars 02/17/23 Full Review Tim G Sort of dragged, and it's not even clear if they were guilty of the charge the movie is titled by. Speaks to the disaster that incarcerating kids is, but could have been a Dateline 30 min segment in terms of the trial. Rated 2.5 out of 5 stars 05/15/16 Full Review Audience Member Great documentary about the Kids for Cash scandal. Just shows us how corrupt everyone really is in this world. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 02/07/23 Full Review Audience Member For the uninitiated, the "Kids for Cash" judicial scandal took place over a period of about ten years, from the late 1990s to the late 2000s. In Luzerne County, Pennsylvania (one county over from where this reviewer grew up, incidentally), Judge Mark Ciavarella ruled over the juvenile court system with an iron fist. Those who entered his chambers rarely left with their parents. He prided himself on cleaning up his county's schools while really teaching the troubled ones a lesson. Once it came into light that he'd made and never disclosed about $2 million in profit from the county's juvenile detention center, his record, judicial philosophy, and integrity were forever tarnished, along with those of co-conspirator and fellow judge, Michael Conahan. The scandal's eponymous documentary is a piece designed to be fair and comprehensive. That director Robert May gives the accused as much a chance to explain himself as he does the victims a chance to tell their stories is admirable. To his credit, Ciavarella is a little convincing (then again, so are most sociopaths). But the film's real strength is in sharing with us stories of children broken by this man's corruptness and abuses of power. May doesn't shy away from the fact that, yes, some of these young men and women belong(ed) in the judicial system, but even in those cases, the lost innocence espoused by the kids and their parents is enough to break your heart. The film unfolds chronologically, never revealing more than a casual observer might know circa 1999, 2005, or 2010. It opens with a Ciavarella campaign ad in which he brags about his "no tolerance" judicial philosophy. We also see him warning students at local high schools-if you're sitting across from me in my courtroom, watch out. It's many years before any average citizens feel something's amiss with their judge. Plenty of kids go away. Luzerne has an abnormally high conviction rate, but no one thinks twice, other than the families of these "delinquents"-teenagers who are guilty of "crimes" like fighting at school and creating prank web pages. What begins to turn heads is the startling rate of families who waive their right to counsel-something like 50%. A Philadelphia judicial advocacy group gets involved, and from there, Ciavarella is toast. The judge helped find the county's home for juvenile delinquents, and for his work, he received a payment of $2 million, which he split with a fellow judge-Conahan-who helped broker the deal from another end. That money went unreported, which meant an easy fraud conviction for federal prosecutors. But the circumstantial evidence of something much dirtier-"Kids for Cash"-was enough to destroy Ciavarella in the court of public opinion. This is where the May's approach pays off. It's tremendously easy to write this man and his claims off; ruining kids's lives for profit-it doesn't get worse than that. And there are more dots to connect in Ciavarella's story than the one made popular by the news, both local and national. But Ciavarella acted without empathy for years before the detention center was built, and prosecutors never formally pursued the kids-for-cash angle. That said, a judge who acts as dishonestly as Ciavarella did loses all benefit of the doubt. He argues extremely compellingly that his crimes are purely financial, but his testimony-as extensive as it is-is placed late enough in the film that he probably won't truly convince anyone. That testimony is preceded mostly by families telling their tragic stories. None is more tragic than that of Sandy Fonzo. Her son, Ed, was arrested for underage drinking and attending a party where drug paraphernalia was found. Though it was his first offense, Ciavarella sentenced him to six months in juvenile detention. After his release, his mother says, he was never the same, and a few years later, following other brushes with the law, he killed himself. Sandy confronted Ciavarella as he walked out of court following his sentencing (guilty on 12 of 39 charges, he's in the middle of a 20-year trip to the big house). This confrontation is emotion in its rawest, most painful form. (See it in the lead up to her interview on The Today Show from 2011.) It's a moment that defines this movie while breaking your heart, and there are more like it. Kids for Cash isn't formally interesting, but its profiling real people who find themselves in an extraordinary, high-stakes situation that ends poorly for many, tragically for some. What I'm saying is that it's inherently cinematic and doesn't need to break form to pass muster. It succeeds on journalistic merit and thoughtfulness of execution. You can't ask for much more from a documentary. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 02/10/23 Full Review Read all reviews Post a rating

      Cast & Crew

      Critics Reviews

      View All (36) Critics Reviews
      Inkoo Kang Los Angeles Times A vital, urgent and infuriating look at the devastating failures of the juvenile court system and the insidious reach of prison privatization. Mar 6, 2014 Full Review Stephanie Merry Washington Post 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. Rated: 3/4 Mar 6, 2014 Full Review Bill Stamets Chicago Sun-Times May errs, however, in styling this human interest saga. Rated: 2.5/4 Feb 28, 2014 Full Review Morgan Rojas Cinemacy Full of shocking revelations, verdicts, and death, Kids For Cash is an eye-opening, important film that should be seen. Mar 1, 2019 Full Review Ryan Lattanzio Thompson on Hollywood 'Kids for Cash' will scare the wits out of anyone worried about how institutional neglect is affecting our kids. Rated: 5/5 Nov 11, 2014 Full Review Chris Hicks Deseret News (Salt Lake City) The film is imperfect in its structure, but director Robert May never sensationalizes what is horrifying enough in its straightforward telling. Jun 9, 2014 Full Review Read all reviews

      Movie Info

      Synopsis Filmmaker Robert May chronicles the case of a once-respected judge who received kickbacks for sending juvenile offenders to prison, even for minor crimes.
      Robert May
      Executive Producer
      John Weekley
      Robert May
      Documentary, Crime, Drama
      Original Language
      Release Date (Theaters)
      Feb 7, 2014, Limited
      Release Date (Streaming)
      Apr 16, 2016
      Box Office (Gross USA)
      Most Popular at Home Now