Juvenile Law Center

Juvenile Law Center staff, November 2013

Juvenile Law Center is the oldest non-profit, public interest law firm for children in the United States. Founded in 1975 by four new graduates of Temple Law School in Philadelphia, Juvenile Law Center has become a national advocate for children’s rights, working across the country to enforce and promote the rights and well-being of children who come into contact with the justice, child welfare and other public systems.

Juvenile Law Center plays a leadership role nationally and in Pennsylvania in shaping and using the law on behalf of children in the child welfare and justice systems to promote fairness, prevent harm, secure access to appropriate services, and ensure a smooth transition from adolescence to adulthood. Most of the youth on whose behalf we work are between 10 and 21 years of age and are among society’s most vulnerable—most likely to be mislabeled, ignored, harmed, or scarred for life by systems that are supposed to help them.

We work to protect and advance children’s rights in courts, legislatures, and executive agencies. Our strategies include litigation, appellate advocacy and submission of amicus (friend-of-the-court) briefs, policy reform, public education, training, and strategic communications. We strive to ensure that laws, policies, and practices affecting youth are rooted in research, consistent with children’s unique developmental characteristics, and reflective of international human rights values.

Our advocacy has contributed to several landmark United States Supreme Court rulings, including:

  • Eliminating the death penalty for juveniles (Roper v. Simmons, 2005)
  • Eliminating juvenile life without parole sentences in non-homicide cases (Graham v. Florida, 2010)
  • Finding that age is relevant in determining whether minors can reasonably believe that they are “in custody” and therefore subject to a Miranda warning (J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 2011)
  • Ending mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles in homicide cases (Miller v. Alabama, 2012)

We played a central role in exposing the Luzerne County, PA “kids-for-cash” scandal, where the rights of thousands of children were violated by juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella—the children were quickly adjudicated delinquent (found guilty) and often sent to a for-profit detention center that was providing cash kickbacks to the judge. The juvenile court scandal made national headlines, and is believed to be the most egregious judicial scandal in the history of our legal system.

Juvenile Law Center rarely represents individual youth, but will take on a case if it represents a novel or important issue that advances the goals of our strategic plan.

As a national public interest law firm, Juvenile Law Center has represented thousands of children as well as participated in numerous cases in federal and state courts to challenge laws, policies, or practices that harm children or to enforce children’s rights. Appearing in more than 35 states and jurisdictions since 1975 as counsel, co-counsel, or amicus curiae or as consultants and trainers, we have been at the forefront of nationwide reforms for children involved in our courts and other public systems.

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