Juvenile Law Center

Keeping Kids in the Community
Reducing referrals to the juvenile and adult justice systems and decriminalizing typical adolescent behavior.

Many youth who are arrested for low-level offenses, including acts that are typical yet undesirable adolescent behaviors, are inappropriately referred to the justice system. Research shows that sending such youth into our courts and correctional facilities increases the risk that they will re-offend in the future. These youth do much better when they are able to stay in their communities. Juvenile Law Center works to divert most youth into evidence-based treatment and other alternatives to adjudication and to reduce the use of detention and the length of stay in correctional facilities. These strategies promote positive youth development and enhance public safety. They also are critical tools in reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.

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The hallways of his Pennsylvania middle school were crowded when 14-year-old Chad saw a male classmate bullying his female friend. He could’ve looked away and kept walking. But when the boy got physical, Chad made what became a life-altering decision to interfere.
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Fairness and Due Process
Fighting for procedural due process, access to counsel, and promoting racial and economic justice.

Since its founding in 1975, Juvenile Law Center has fought to ensure that youth in the child welfare and justice systems have skilled and well-resourced attorneys to advocate for them. Our society’s most vulnerable youth need the assistance of qualified, effective counsel to enforce their due process rights, protect them from harm, and promote their well-being. Without the zealous advocacy of attorneys, children involved in the courts can experience negative and life-changing outcomes such as removal from their homes, separation from family, multiple placements, disruptions in education, and incarceration. Attorneys hold courts and state agencies accountable under the law and ensure that the systems that are supposed to help these children actually do so.

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Fourteen-year-old Hillary chuckled to herself as she drew a caricature of her vice principal, replete with her signature red hair and green pantsuit. As the school administrator had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian, Hillary added an armband...
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Protecting Incarcerated Youth
Ensuring safe, humane and supportive conditions for incarcerated youth.

Juvenile Law Center works to ensure that children in the justice system can live in the least restrictive, most family-like setting that will meet their needs. When children are removed from their homes and communities, they should be placed in safe environments where they have access to effective, individualized services including quality education. Juvenile Law Center has long advocated for education and treatment for youth in institutions and combatted harsh conditions of confinement. We are particularly concerned with the use of solitary confinement, an inhumane, traumatizing practice that also deprives youth of the support and services they need for healthy development.

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Bruce was 15 years-old when he entered the juvenile justice system. While in these facilities, Bruce witnessed and experienced aggression by staff. Bruce's education also suffered, and in some placements, youth of all ages and grade levels were in one classroom doing the same worksheets.
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Youth in the Criminal Justice System
Challenging harsh sentencing of youth, including life without parole, and preventing the prosecution of youth as adults .

The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed what any parent knows: adolescents are poor decision-makers, are more vulnerable to negative peer influences, and have a greater capacity for rehabilitation and change than adults. Building on the Court’s findings, Juvenile Law Center works to ensure that youth are never sentenced to life without the opportunity for parole or other extreme sentences. Juvenile Law Center also works to reduce the number of youth transferred to the adult system, and to ensure that youth are treated fairly and given due process when they are tried as adults. Juvenile Law Center collaborates with national partners and employs various strategies, including authoring amicus briefs in Miller v. Alabama and Graham v. Florida in the campaign to end the sentencing of juveniles to life without parole.

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Aaron Phillips has been in prison for nearly three decades for a crime he committed when he was 17 years-old. Although Aaron has matured and changed in the time since his adolescent offense, he can never be released from prison because he is serving a sentence of life without the opportunity for parole.
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Promoting Second Chances
Challenging the disclosure of juvenile records and promoting community and school re-entry for youth in the justice system.

Helping troubled youth get their lives back on track is one of the juvenile justice system’s core objectives. Yet, too often, youth find that their justice system involvement poses barriers to becoming productive, responsible members of society. Youth returning from placements face obstacles to re-enrolling in school and transferring academic credits, thus undermining their educational progress. Court and law enforcement records impede community reintegration and success for youth who already have been held accountable for their offenses. This is particularly true for youth subject to lifetime sex offender registration, despite data demonstrating that these youth are at low risk of re-offending. Juvenile Law Center advocates for policies and practices that support community and school re-entry and minimize the harmful impact of juvenile records.

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Dina always wanted to become a Nurse Practitioner and has worked very hard to achieve her goal. But, Dina’s juvenile record is preventing her from fulfilling that dream.
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Transition to Adulthood
Promoting successful transitions to adulthood for youth involved in the foster care and justice systems.

Older youth in foster care and the justice system often miss out on opportunities to build strong relationships with peers and supportive adults or to develop critical life skills. Many youth who “age out” of foster care experience poor adult outcomes including homelessness, reliance on public assistance, and incarceration in the absence of forming permanent family relationships. Young people with physical and intellectual disabilities face even greater challenges. Juvenile Law Center advocates for policies and practices that help teenagers achieve permanency with a family before they age out and, failing that, provide support and services for a successful transition to independence.

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Samantha entered foster care at two years old when her mother, struggling with drug addiction, was no longer able to care for her and her siblings. By the time Samantha turned 21 and aged out of care, she had spent time in five foster homes, one group home, two residential treatment facilities, and a Supervised Independent Living (SIL) program.
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Support Juvenile Law Center

One of the most important lessons from our 40 years of experience is that children involved with the justice and foster care systems need zealous legal advocates. Your support for our work is more important now than ever before. Support