The 2013 Alive Mind Cinema documentary, which was released on DVD on December 2 2014, "Kids for Ca$h" provides a thought-provoking look at the juvenile justice system in the years following the Columbine High School incident. The "bonus" general topic related to the challenge regarding proving a link between arguably connected developments.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Kids" indicates that the propaganda level of the film is higher than it seems in the actual documentary. It focuses on the stories of the young offenders who feel that they received unduly harsh treatment in the juvenile judicial system.
"Kids" centered around the evidence that improper financial motives were a factor regarding certain actions of juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella in Luzerne County Pennsylvania. These decisions related to the dispositions of cases over which Ciavarella presided.
Chronologically, Ciavarella was elected in the '90s on a platform of being tough on juveniles who were charged with crimes. On being elected, his activities included annual visits to high schools within his jurisdiction to deliver a "zero tolerance" message. He held true to these principles in adjudicating the cases before him.
The primary scandal regarding imposing sentences that some considered excessive related to Ciavarella receiving undisclosed payments for his role in building privately owned juvenile detention facilities. One aspect of this that was not disputed was that Ciavarella violated his legal duty to disclose that compensation. Whether that financial benefit motivated sentencing decisions by Ciavarella presented the more complicated dispute on which "Kids" focused.
A third element was two documented cases in which parents of a child who was before Ciavarella asserted that the judge improperly discouraged the family from obtaining legal counsel. These incidents provided those who accused Ciavarella of improper conduct with additional ammunition against him.
The search for the truth regarding the relevant events provided much of the drama in the film; the fact that Ciavarella was tough on juvenile crime long before the new centers were even being considered, the VERY limited provided information regarding the facts of each featured juvenile justice case, and the broader reality that the versions of every story are your side, the side of the other guy, and the truth are all critical to this documentary.
"Kids" does the proper job of a documentary in presenting both sides of the story and goes as far as highlighting the fact that a news story about a judge locking up kids to line his pockets is more "sexy" than one about merely not divulging otherwise legal and proper payments.
The participants include a candid Ciavarella, kids whom he sentenced, the parents of those children, attorneys, representatives of a juvenile justice advocacy group, and news professionals who covered the story. Each of these individuals with a horse in that race nicely presented their perspectives with very little (if any) drama.
The film additionally addressed the broader issue of the proper means for handling teens who engage in behavior that brings them in the "system." The argument that most adolescents who start on the road to delinquency will escalate the frequency and/or intensity of their offenses unless they receive an adequately strong deterrent early in the process is as strong (if not stronger) than the assertion that a girl who posts disrespectful images of a school administrator is unlikely to escalate to the point of going on a rampage.
The increasingly strong sense of entitlement that teens are obtaining in this era of greater leniency toward them presents a strong case for effective discipline. The challenge relates to ensuring that the time truly fits the crime.
As an aside, the recently reviewed Canadian film "Blackbird" nicely addresses the need for proportionate and proper evaluation regarding juvenile offenders. The sad truth is that North American society is much closer to punishing people for thought crimes and for speaking out regarding actual possession than we were in 1984.
The bonus features on the "Kids" DVD include the trailer for the film and roughly 15 minutes of additional interviews.
Anyone with questions regarding "Kids" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.