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Family Speaks Out About Juvenile Sentencing

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A Pennsylvania girl, sentenced to hard time by a judge getting kickbacks from the detention center, finally speaks out. She and her mother sat down with FOX 29 to tell their story as an area filmmaker also looks to share it with the world.

It's a story that makes for a good movie, only thing is, it's fact, not fiction! Children, some of them as young as 12-years-old, have been sent to jail for minor offenses like smoking a cigarette, or making an obscene jester, and not for a day or two, but for five and six years at a time!

These sentences were handed down to some 3,000 children, many without lawyers, as they went before the corrupt judge and now convicted criminal, Mike Ciaverella.

"I think one of the problems that we unfortunately encountered in Luzerne County was a real complacency on the part of the profession that worked in juvenile court," Marsha Levick, Esq., Juvenile Law Center Co-Founder said, "a willingness to go along with what was happening in Ciaverella courtroom."

One person who wasn't okay with what was going on was Laurene Transue. She found out that her daughter, Hillary, was facing charges for creating a fake MySpace page.

What a then 14-year-old Hillary didn't know was that her decision would land her in front of former Judge, Ciaverella.

"He leaned over the bench and yelled at her, 'what makes you think you can get away with this kind of crap,'" Transue recalled.

"I just knew when the gavel went down. My mother just let go of me and I knew that's when time begin to stop," Hillary said.

Hillary was sentenced to three months detention. Her parents were beside themselves not knowing what to do. Laurene says she started making calls and lots of them.

She eventually reached out to Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, where a team, headed by co-founders Marsha Levick and Bob Schwartz, would unravel "Kids for Cash," one of Pennsylvania's biggest scandals, ever.

Luzerne County needed a new juvenile detention center to replace its old, rundown one. Ciaverella took advantage of the need, and along with another judge, accepted money from the developer, a so-called finder's fee, and it went on for years, all the while kids were still being imprisoned.

Once the Juvenile Law Center got involved in Hillary's case, she was released after three weeks.

Sadly, the outcome wasn't the same for thousands of other kids who were taken from their homes.

Some were so traumatized by their ordeal that today they're suffering from substance abuse and anxiety. One young man even committed suicide and many have dropped out of school.

The story captivated many, including Oscar-winning movie producer and director, Robert May, who hails from Luzerne County.

His film, "Kids for Cash," opens in theatres this week, nationwide.

"It's these celebrated judges who, for years, were pillars of the community. Judge Ciaverella was elected twice to 10-year terms and people loved him and all of a sudden he's accused of selling children, and right under the noses of all of us, if you will," May said.

The director hopes his film will educate people about what's happening inside the Juvenile Justice System in this country, which many will tell you isn't all good.

"There's a culture of fear because of school shootings, Columbine, Sandy Hook. People are afraid of children. What they're not realizing is that it's society that has harmed these children first, "Hillary said.

Former Luzerne County judge, Mark Ciavarella, is behind bars, serving a 28-year-sentence.

Hillary Transue meanwhile, is finishing up graduate school and trying to move on with her life.

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