Earlier this month, the Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP) met with Professor Francine Sherman of Boston College Law School who has been teaching Juvenile Justice and Children’s Rights & Public Policy for two decades. Professor Sherman founded and directs the Juvenile Rights Advocacy Program at BC Law and is certainly an expert on the subject, and she provided a comprehensive overview of the topic for PILP. She discussed the two approaches to juvenile justice, social welfare and social control, and the historical practices behind both concepts.
Over the past century, juvenile justice has varied from being an institutionalized system linked to criminal justice to a support system for children whose parents are unable to care for the child. More recently, from the 1990s to mid-2000s, juvenile justice took on the “do the crime, do the time” mantra and resulted in more youth entering the adult criminal justice system. Then, Professor Sherman described the switch that’s been taking place from 2005 for juvenile justice to move back to the social welfare concept. Supreme Court cases including Roper v Simmons (2005), Graham v. Florida (2010), and Miller v. Alabama (2012), which extended Graham v. Florida all moved juvenile justice away from mirroring the adult system. Juvenile justice continues to evolve as many of laws are state/county based and after Miller v. Alabama, many states’ laws were unconstitutional. Professor Sherman also noted the movement toward “fairness” in the system and acknowledging childhood development.
Concluding, Professor Sherman noted the 3 “R’s” of supporting juveniles who’ve found themselves in the justice system: rights, remedies, and resources. From her perspective, the resources component is the most lacking. However, if you would like to support youth in need of legal aid, there are a number of organizations in the Boston area in need of volunteers and support. Two organizations Professor Sherman suggests looking into are the EdLaw Project* and Citizens for Juvenile Justice.