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!