Several years ago, in Luzern County, PA- not too far from where I live- a judge decided that he would punish thousands of kids by sentencing them to incredibly bizarre and unreasonable terms in private juvenile detention centers. He sent a ton of kids to these places for crimes as minor as creating a fake MySpace profile. Under his reign, over 3,000 kids were torn from their families and sent to these facilities. When a parent finally questioned it, we discovered that he was receiving kickbacks from the facilities. A new movie available on VOD, Kids for Cash, exposes this story and others like it.

Kids for Cash

Private Juvenile Detention Facilities and Boot Camps: Doing Far More Harm than Good?

Last year, my good friend’s 17-year-old son was sent to a boot camp facility not far from where the Kids for Cash judge held his reign of terror. He had gotten in trouble for something relatively minor. Not quite as minor as creating a fake MySpace page, but nothing violent. He blew off probation and yes, he absolutely deserved to get in trouble. He also had a serious problem at the time with opiate addiction.

When he was taken in to be punished for skipping out on probation, he asked for help. His mom asked, begged, for them to put him in rehab facility before sending him to a juvenile detention facility. His probation officer instead pushed for him to be sent to a boot camp. The judge agreed. He was taken away immediately, barely a chance to wave good-bye to his mom and little sister. My friend was stripped of all her legal rights as a parent (when your child goes to juvie, the state takes custody) and her son was soon stripped of all his dignity.

While there, he was supposed to be on a 24-hour suicide watch and getting at least some help for his withdrawal. Instead, he was held down while they poured chemicals all over his head and shaved it, to fight lice. The chemicals got into his eyes and burned his face. He was also held down and beaten for “resisting” the chemical torture. After one night there, while he was supposed to be on suicide watch, he managed to escape. Yes, he escaped when people were supposed to be watching him 24-7. He was missing for days before checking himself into a mental hospital. Eventually, he was transferred to a fairly respectable, decent state-run juvenile detention center and did his time.

My friend never went after the boot camp because they didn’t press charges for the escape and she was afraid they would. This place housed many boys, all minors. There are NO video cameras in the facility, nothing to monitor the workers and make sure they’re treating these kids properly. I wanted her to go to the media. I wanted her to let me use my media contacts from when my ex worked at several news stations. I wanted to take these people down for what they did. After much research, we found that more than a dozen kids actually died in that facility over the last few years. Stories of being beaten were common.

Why doesn’t anyone do anything? Like my friend, most people are afraid of something. Others think that they’ll be ignored because their kids committed a crime, no matter how minor. People seem to think that these boot camp facilities “scare kids straight,” that they’re beneficial to troubled children and society as a whole. While there may be some out there that actually care about kids and want to rehabilitate troubled children, I’ve heard too many stories about the horrors perpetrated in these places.

The worst part is, like the Luzern County judge, many judges, probation officers and counselors are getting kickbacks for sending kids to these places. See, most are privately run facilities. They make money for every kid they have. The more bodies in the facility, the more money. Throw a little money at a judge and it ends up paying off even more for these places. It’s corruption at its worse because it deeply affects the lives of these children.

Kids for Cash: Exposing the Corruption

I’m embarrassed to live so close to the county that inspired this movie, that the judge behind it probably lives less than 45 minutes from my house. Robert Mays does an amazing job of exposing the corruption and following the devastating effects. Through dozens of interviews spanning several years, you’ll discover exactly what went on, what goes on at the boot camp facilities, and how judges are selling our Kids for Cash.

Want to help? Visit Kids for Cash to find out how you can order the movie and get involved. What do you think of boot camp facilities and private juvenile detention centers? Should kids be sent to places where no one monitors the actions of the guards and wardens?