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Young offenders’ capacity to change and grow presents a major opportunity for change

10th January 2011

MEDIA ADVISORY

Young offenders’ capacity to change and grow, combined with their reduced blameworthiness and inherent immaturity of judgment, sets them apart from adult offenders in fundamental ways. Medical, psychological, and sociological studies, all show that children under 18 are less culpable and more amenable to rehabilitation than adults who commit similar crimes. Combining such up-to-date research evidence, expert legal representation, and targeted funding is a winning strategy for the advancement of law reform in children’s cases.

This is the clear message which Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Centre (JLC), Philadelphia, a world leader in challenging the treatment of children in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems across the U.S., will deliver today at a seminar entitled “Strategic Juvenile Justice Litigation - the U.S. Experience”, co-hosted by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA).

Marsha and JLC have played a strategic role in advocating on behalf of young people over the past 35 years, achieving major successes campaigning for reform of the legal system, including the end of the death penalty for under-18s (U.S. Supreme Court judgment, 1 March 2005) and more recently, an end to the practice of juvenile life without parole for non-homicide cases (U.S. Supreme Court judgment , 17 May 2010).

The seminar takes place today, Monday 10th January, 2011 from 5-7pm in the Distillery Building, Church St, Dublin 7.Following Marsha’s address, Catherine Ghent, solicitor and children’s rights advocate, will respond from an Irish perspective.

Speaking in advance of the seminar, Larry Donnelly, Manager of PILA, said:

“The work of the Juvenile Law Center Marsha Levick co-founded in Philadelphia in 1975 is truly inspirational.  In courts, in legislatures and in communities across the United States, the Juvenile Law Center has advocated successfully for children and youth at risk. Marsha Levick’s visit to Ireland brings home just how necessary it is for Irish children to have their rights enshrined in law and recognised in the legal system. A children’s law centre in Ireland could play a pivotal role in ensuring that this happens.”

Liam Herrick, Executive Director of IPRT, said:

“The work of the JLC in the United States and the evidence they have shown about child development has proven how, in a justice context, children must be treated as children.  This message has a powerful resonance in Ireland, where we continue to detain children in St. Patrick’s Institution in contravention of international human rights law.  The continuing failure to end the use of St. Patrick’s for the detention of children is a scar on our justice system, and one that must be urgently addressed.”

The new Child Law Clinic at the faculty of law, University College Cork, will be launched by Marsha Levick on Thursday (13th January) at 5pm. Designed to facilitate collaboration between the professions and academia and to promote quality and reforming litigation in child law, it is the first initiative of its kind in Ireland.

For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview with speakers, please contact:

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Campaigns & Communications Officer, Irish Penal Reform Trust

T: + 353 1 874 1400           E: communications@iprt.ie

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. Strategic Juvenile Justice Litigation – the U.S. Experience

Co-hosted by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA), this event takes place on Monday 10th January, 2011 from 5-7pm in the Distillery Building, Church St, Dublin 7.

2. Marsha Levick | Biography
Marsha Levick co-founded Juvenile Law Center in 1975, and currently serves as its Deputy Director and Chief Counsel.  For more than 30 years, Levick has been an advocate for children’s and women's rights and is a nationally recognized leader in juvenile law. Levick has authored or co-authored numerous appellate and amicus briefs in state and federal courts, including the US Supreme Court, as well as several scholarly articles on children’s rights issues.  Levick co-authored the lead child advocacy briefs in both Roper v Simmons, where the US Supreme Court outlawed the juvenile death penalty in 2005 and, more recently, Graham v Florida, where the US Supreme ruled the sentence of life without parole unconstitutional for juveniles convicted of non homicide crimes.

3. Juvenile Law Center | www.jlc.org/about/history/

Juvenile Law Center is the oldest public interest law firm for children in the United States. Established in 1975 in Philadelphia, the Juvenile Law Center uses legal advocacy, publications, projects, public education, and training to ensure that the child welfare, juvenile justice, and other public systems provide vulnerable children with the protection and services they need to become productive adults. Over the past 35 years, the JLC has achieved major success in campaigning for reform of the legal system, including:

  • Levick and Juvenile Law Center was also one of the leading organizations to file an amicus brief against the juvenile death penalty in Roper v. Simmons (March 2005), where the Supreme Court ultimately held the juvenile death penalty unconstitutional.
  • On 17 May 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that sentences of life without the possibility of parole imposed on juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses violate the Eighth Amendment (which prohibits ‘cruel and unusual punishments’). 
  • Levick and Juvenile Law Center was centrally involved in exposing the Luzerne County “kids-for-cash” scandal, where judges were found to have accepted bribes to commit children into juvenile detention.

4. Child Law Clinic | Faculty of law, UCC

Marsha Levick will launch the Child Law Clinic at the faculty of law, University College Cork on Thursday 13th January at 5pm. The Child Law Clinic is a new initiative at the Faculty of Law University College Cork. It provides graduate law students with the opportunity to work on ‘real’ cases, while providing a free legal research service to the legal professions on legal issues concerning children. Designed to facilitate collaboration between the professions and academia and to promote quality and reforming litigation in child law, it is the first initiative of its kind in Ireland. The development of the Clinic has been supported by NAIRTL, the National Academy for the integration of Research, Teaching and Learning.

5. IPRT Briefing on the Detention of Children in St Patrick’s Institution

2-page briefing calling for an end to this practice, which breaches international human rights law: www.iprt.ie/files/IPRT_Briefing_on_Detention_Children_in_St_Patricks_Institution_14122010.pdf

6. Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) | www.pila.ie

PILA is a project of FLAC which was established in 2009. It aims to facilitate and promote the use of law in the public interest for the advancement and protection of human rights and for the benefit of marginalised and disadvantaged people through its work in public interest litigation, law reform and legal education. See http://www.pila.ie for more details.

7. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie

IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.

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