Peggy Nicholson '11: Advocating for Kids Wronged by System
In early 2007, Juvenile Law Center (JLC) attorneys began to investigate irregularities in Luzerne County, Penn. , and found that hundreds of youths had been tried, convicted and, in many cases, placed in residential programs - all without the benefit of counsel. After years of maneuvering in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to get relief for these youth - and in the wake of the disclosure that two Luzerne County judges had been involved in a pattern of corruption that included placing many juveniles in detention facilities in exchange for over $2 million in kick-backs from those facilities - JLC attorneys continue to fight to ensure that the affected youth's records are expunged and that their civil claims are heard. And I get to help them.
As a summer legal intern for the Juvenile Law Center, this is just one of the many cases I have been working on that tackles the systemic problems in state and national juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Founded in 1975 as a nonprofit legal service, JLC is one of the oldest multi-issue public interest law firms for children in the United States. In the two weeks I have been here, I have already had the opportunity to draft sections of an amicus petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the role that age should play in a Miranda custody analysis, research case-specific legal issues for dependency hearings and observe courtroom proceedings for the Luzerne litigation. Later in the summer, I will also have the chance to conduct "Know Your Rights" trainings for youth in the juvenile justice system.
I have always been shocked by how often the juvenile justice and child welfare systems fail our nation's youth, allowing them to fall through the cracks. However, I am equally amazed by the dedication of the JLC attorneys I work under and their ability to combine persuasive legal arguments with cutting-edge social science research to promote change in both individual cases and through systems reform. I look forward to learning everything I can this summer so that one day, I too can provide much needed advocacy for juveniles. Here's to the next eight weeks!