The goal of this site has always been to draw attention to deserving nonfiction books, films, and documentaries. A lot of what I recommend and write about deals with our broken justice system. Most of the time this involves stories of wrongful convictions, false confessions, unfair sentencing, and unequal rights for those without means. But the criminal side of our justice system isn’t the only part that’s broken.
I recently watched two documentaries that point out serious flaws with other aspects of our justice system. In this case, family law and the juvenile justice system. I’ll start with the excellent Divorce Corp by Joseph Sorge. This film looks at how unscrupulous lawyers, judges, and a wide variety of smaller players pray on those seeking a divorce. You can’t watch this film without coming away with the notion that family courts are setup for the sole purpose of extorting money from vulnerable people. There was a point in my life where my wife and I once talked about divorce. At the time, neither she nor I had the money to pursue a divorce. I’m glad that was the case. This August we will have been married for thirty-eight years. Every marriage goes through it’s ups and downs, and sometimes divorce is necessary. But if you are considering this step, if you have children, watch this documentary. As much as our criminal justices system needs an overhaul, so too do the family courts.
The next documentary Kids for Cash by Robert May deals with the juvenile justice system in the wake of Columbine. In the past, if you got in a fight at school, you went to the principal’s office. After Columbine, school systems across the nation adopted a zero tolerance policy (which a lawyer in the film rightly called the zero common sense policy). If you get in a fight at school nowadays, especially in this northeaster Pennsylvania town, you went to juvenile court and then sent to a detention center. And I’m not talking about for a few weeks. I’m talking months, years. There was no opportunity to present a case; there was no hearing by a fair and impartial judge. Instead, there was a steady stream of juveniles caught up in a corrupt system that destroyed the lives of entire families and the futures of thousands of children. When this story first broke, it became known as the kids for cash scandal, thus the title. The judges who were caught up in this scandal may argue that they never sent kids away to detention in exchange for cash, but what they did do and were found guilty of is equally deserving of every minute of time they are now spending incarcerated. At the end of the film the filmmakers provide a few statistics that highlight how twisted things have become not just in this case but across the nation. We incarcerate five time more juveniles than any other country in the world. It costs $10,500 a year to educate a child. It costs $88,000 a year to incarcerate a child.
Both of these films are available on streaming services. I highly recommend them both.