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‘Kids for Cash’ screening, panel at State Theatre on Friday

A documentary taking a close look at a Pennsylvania judicial scandal and its impact on children is bringing that discussion to State College.

Oscar-winning documentarian Robert May’s movie “Kids for Cash” explores the Luzerne County incident in which more than 3,000 minors were placed with for-profit private detention facilities in return for millions of dollars in kickbacks to two judges. The film focuses attention on how kids enter the juvenile justice system and what happens to some of them once that happens.

The film will be shown at the State Theatre on Friday (7 p.m.), Sunday (4 and 7:30 p.m.) and Monday (4 and 7:30 p.m.). Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for seniors and students.

May will headline a panel discussion after the Friday evening showing.

“It’s the story about a small-town scandal that really affected the whole nation,” May said. “People have described it as the worst judicial scandal in the history of the whole nation.”

The director-producer will join former Penn State assistant football coach Jay Paterno, Centre County Court of Common Pleas Judge Bradley Lunsford and Juvenile Law Center attorney Emily Keller for the discussion, titled “Are Zero-Tolerance Policies Hurting the Next Generation?”

“This is a classic case of why there is a need for checks and balances in all branches of government,” Lunsford said. “I am very pleased to assist our community in understanding how something like this could ever occur, as well as to examine methods used to prevent this type of abuse from ever happening here in Centre County.”

The panel discussions have helped build awareness of both the film and the issue. There are three panels on the film this week. They started before the movie was even completed, before anyone knew that the judges in question, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, gave exclusive access to the story to May.

“As we went through, we found that practitioners who are in system were very emotionally affected, even though they know these kinds of stories,” May said. “It has started a very broad discussion.”

The discussion is about when to treat a child like a child, when to hold children to a different standard and when zero-tolerance gets out of hand.

On April 9, a similar screening happened before two very different audiences. One was in Washington for the Justice Department. The other, co-hosted by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., was for Congress.

“Casey said this will be the start of major change nationally. That’s remarkable, really,” said May, a father of two teenagers who said he knows that dealing with kids isn’t easy. “The strength of the film seems to be in the beginning stage. I don’t know where it’s going to go from here.”

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