top of page


A detailed examination of the origins and impacts of a juvenile justice scandal that rocked Pennsylvania from 1996 to 2009. Under the judicial tenure of Judge Mark Ciavarella, thousands of children in Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County were shuttled into a for-profit youth prison that he had a hand in designing. Along with fellow judge Joe Conahan, personal injury lawyer Robert Powell, and commercial real estate developer Robert Mericle, Ciavarella orchestrated the imprisonment of misbehaving young people while profiting from their punishment. He followed a zero-tolerance policy, meting out the harshest sentences, no matter the crime. Under this judicial paradigm, Ciavarella funneled young people who entered his courtroom into Pennsylvania Child Care, the for-profit youth prison that was lining the conspirators’ pockets. This clear and detailed account, which includes interviews with some of the victims, examines not only how this facility came into being and how its benefactors profited from the imprisonment of children but also how earlier events, such as the 1959 Knox Mine Disaster, paved the way for a culture of government corruption in Luzerne County and allowed the “cash for kids” scheme to happen.

Summary: Kirkus Reviews


Well researched and concisely reported, this heart-wrenching story is presented in an easy-to-follow and appealing manner. Supporting images of various figures, places, and pieces of evidence provide thought-provoking breaks in the text that emphasize just how real this miscarriage of justice was. 


An informative and accessible exploration of a major prison crisis with direct relevance to youth.

-Kirkus Reviews

Let’s hope that this important and profound piece of nonfiction inspires some young people to become activists and to get involved in one of the many fields that relate to the story–education, the judicial system, psychology, journalism, etc. 


Given the quality of the research and writing here, it’s not surprising that the author has previously been a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She sure as hell deserves an award for this one. From cover to cover, SHACKLED is a stellar read and an absolute must-have for all those serving tweens and teens.

Richie's Picks full review:

-Richie Partington, MLIS

This was very well researched and written. I hope many people will read it and find a passion for reform. Numbers have dropped since the super predator era, but we have a long way to go to create a healing and harm reducing justice system for our kids. And I have to echo one sentiment from late in the book: while these kids obviously deserve justice and I am thrilled their story got attention and results, would this have been the case in a primarily Black or brown community? 70% of incarcerated youth are non-white. All of the stuff outlined in this book? Happens so much more to POC. ALL of our kids deserve a chance to be better, regardless of race, and this type of reform needs to be more widespread than it is currently. 

-Goodreads Review Excerpt

This book should be read by as many people as possible. It is a perfect example of what can happen when people stay quiet instead of supporting each other to stand up for what's right and how even the most powerful people need to be challenged and held to account for their actions.


-Net Galley

Educator Review

Meet the Author Author Recording

bottom of page