Juvenile Law Center

The police officer assured Hillary's bewildered mother that the court would go easy on her and she shouldn't invest in a lawyer. After all, he said, it was just a prank and Hillary had never been in prior trouble...
Read Hillary's Story
I thought, maybe someone would pay attention and put an end to this mess. I was just a 13-year-old who really needed help to make my parents stop fighting.
Read Matt's Story

In 2007, a frantic call from an alarmed parent prompted Juvenile Law Center to investigate irregularities in Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County juvenile court. We discovered that hundreds of children routinely appeared before Judge Mark Ciavarella without counsel, were quickly adjudicated delinquent (found guilty) for minor offenses and immediately transferred to out-of-home placements. We petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2008 to vacate the juveniles’ adjudications of delinquency and expunge their records.

Though the court denied our initial petition, once the United States Attorney alleged that Ciavarella and another Luzerne County judge had accepted nearly $2.6 million in alleged kickbacks from two private for-profit juvenile facilities, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted our request for extraordinary relief. The US Attorney also filed federal criminal charges against both judges.

The scope of the violations of the children’s rights in Luzerne County turned out to be more egregious than anyone could have imagined. From 2003 to 2008, the Luzerne County judicial corruption scandal altered the lives of more than 2500 children and involved more than 6000 cases. Over 50 percent of the children who appeared before Ciavarella lacked legal representation; 60 percent of these children were removed from their homes. Many of them were sent to one or both of the two facilities at the center of the corruption scandal. Believed to be the largest judicial corruption scandal in our history,the story was featured in a 2009 episode of ABC’s “20/20.”

For their involvement in the “kids-for-cash” scandal, Judge Michael Conahan, the facilities’ former co- owner Robert Powell, and the developer Robert Mericle pled guilty to federal criminal charges; Judge Mark Ciavarella was found guilty of various federal crimes following his trial in 2011. In 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated the adjudications of all youth who appeared before Ciavarella between 2003-2008, dismissed their cases with prejudice and ordered all of their records expunged.

In addition to the federal criminal prosecutions and the proceedings before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, we partnered with pro bono co-counsel Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller to file a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of the children and parents who suffered emotional trauma and financial loss as a consequence of the corruption scheme. The suit seeks monetary damages from the former judges, private facilities, the former co-owner of the facilities and the developer. The suit makes claims under federal civil rights laws and the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. We remain dedicated to improving Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system and preventing the recurrence of such widespread violations of children’s rights in the future.

To learn more about Juvenile Law Center's work to litigate this scandal and to seek justice on behalf of the children and families involved, visit these pages:

Luzerne County: State Legislation and Reform

  • Information on what actions the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and General Assembly have taken—and not taken—to improve the juvenile justice system in the wake of the "kids-for-cash" scandal.

Luzerne County: Federal Civil Class Action

  • Information on Juvenile Law Center's and pro bono co-counsel Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller's federal class action lawsuit on behalf of the children and families of Luzerne County.

Luzerne County: Federal Criminal Charges

  • Information on the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania's case against ex-juvenile court judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella.

Luzerne County: State Supreme Court Litigation

  • Information on Juvenile Law Center's filings in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, advocating for the Court to order that the juvenile adjudications and records of the youth involved in the "kids-for-cash" scandal be vacated and expunged.


  • Watch the Trailer
  • See the film
  • Host a screening

"Kids for Cash" Official Movie Trailer

Variety calls “Kids for Cash,” a new film chronicling the Luzerne County, PA “kids-for-cash” scandal, “deeply shocking and continually surprising.”


The film, which features the work of Juvenile Law Center in uncovering and litigating the scandal, is produced and directed by Robert May, who also produced “The Station Agent” and the Oscar-winning documentary “The Fog of War.”


“Kids for Cash” debuts in theaters across the country in February and March 2014.

See the Film

"Kids for Cash" is currently playing in theaters across the country and, in Spring 2014, will be available for viewing on Comcast OnDemand.


Find out when the film is playing in your community: Visit www.kidsforcashthemovie.com to find a theater near you.

Host a Screening

Help get the word out about the need for juvenile justice reform by hosting a Gathr screening of "Kids for Cash." Hosting a screening is the perfect way to spark dialogue about what more can be done for children and families affected by the juvenile justice system, as well as showcase positive programs and policies.


Students, lawyers, parents, law enforcement and social workers across the country have been coming together to watch the film, raise awareness, and take action to advocate for a juvenile justice system that works in the best interest of youth and families.


Visit the "Kids for Cash" website to find out how you can host a screening in your community.

Lessons from "Kids for Cash"


Barriers to Legal Representation


Consequences of Having a Juvenile Record


Zero-Tolerance School Discipline Policies


Disrupted Education, Disrupted Lives


Adolescent Brains vs. Adult Brains


Trauma for Youth and Families


Financial Costs to Families and Taxpayers


Inappropriate Overuse of the Juvenile Justice System


An Overly Punitive Country

Learn More

Support Juvenile Law Center

One of the most important lessons from our 40 years of experience is that children involved with the justice and foster care systems need zealous legal advocates. Your support for our work is more important now than ever before. Support