Congresswoman Scanlon’s Justice for Juveniles Act Passes the House

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon’s Justice for Juveniles Act passed the House with overwhelming support and awaits action in the Senate. The bill, which previously passed the House in September 2020, was introduced by Rep. Scanlon (PA-05) in part as a response to decades of abuse exposed at Glen Mills — the nation’s oldest reform school, which closed in April of 2019.


Young people are often subjected to systemic mistreatment while incarcerated, including physical and sexual violence, solitary confinement, pepper spray, and harmful restraints from other youth and facility staff. The Justice for Juveniles Act will protect young people from abuse in prisons by exempting them from the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).


Under current guidelines, the PLRA makes it difficult for abused youth to seek any remedy for their suffering by setting burdensome requirements before a lawsuit can be filed, limiting the types of relief that can be received, preventing lawsuits for emotional injuries, and creating obstacles that can impede retention of adequate legal representation.


“All of America’s young people are deserving of our protection — regardless of their circumstances — and with the House’s passage of our Justice For Juveniles Act, we are one step closer to protecting youth in corrections facilities,” said Rep. Scanlon. “The trauma of physical and sexual violence, as well as psychological abuse, leaves a lasting impact on anyone who experiences these horrors, but youth in detention can be especially susceptible to damage. They also face added difficulties when trying to navigate the complex legal systems necessary to raise allegations of abuse — a system that even most adults struggle to understand.”


Rep. Scanlon added: “This issue is personal for me. Glen Mills, the nation’s oldest reform school, is located in my district. In 2019, the facility was forced to close following revelations about appalling abuse being inflicted on its young residents. Broken bones, threats of retaliation, sustained physical assaults — all at the hands of staff members. Although the stories from Glen Mills are heartbreaking, they’re not unique. Just this March, despite the recent example of Glen Mills, children were removed from yet another juvenile detention facility just a few miles away after sickening allegations of abuse. We cannot allow this mistreatment to continue. I look forward to the Senate bringing the Justice for Juveniles Act to the floor for a vote.”


The Justice for Juveniles Act is a bipartisan effort co-led by Congressman Kelly Armstrong (ND-At Large). 


“The Justice for Juveniles Act is commonsense criminal justice reform that will improve legal options for minors navigating the court system,” said Rep. Armstrong. “Juveniles in custody face unique challenges, and this bill will bring more accountability for their wellbeing.”


The bill also has the support of organizations on the front lines of ensuring access to justice for our youth, including the Juvenile Law Center.


“Young people in youth detention centers and prisons face a serious risk of long-term harm from physical and sexual abuse, solitary confinement, and other harsh conditions. The Justice for Juveniles Act provides them with an important protection by increasing their access to federal courts,” said Jessica Feierman, Senior Managing Director of Juvenile Law Center. “We are grateful to Representative Scanlon for her leadership and encouraged by the bipartisan support for this much-needed reform. We urge the Senate to act quickly to keep youth safe.”


A copy of the bill can be found  here.


Original reporting on the abuses at Glen Mills was conducted by Lisa Gartner at The Philadelphia Inquirer. The initial story, which broke the abuse allegations in February 2019, can be viewed  here



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