Juvenile Law Center Boss Bob Schwartz Set to Retire in October

Robert Schwartz will retire after more than 30 years as executive director of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, a public interest law firm that takes on national and local issues related to the juvenile justice system.

Schwartz co-founded JLC in 1975, and has served as its executive director since 1982. He plans to retire in the fall, and the center has issued a notice on its website soliciting applications for his successor.

The new leader will be expected to follow a strategic plan laid out by Schwartz and the board that runs through 2017 and involves steering JLC towards six areas of work:

  • Transition to Adulthood – Promoting successful transitions to adulthood for both foster youth and delinquent youth.
  • Incarcerated Youth – Ensuring safe, humane and supportive conditions for incarcerated youth.
  • Youth in the Criminal Justice System – Challenging harsh sentencing of youth and reducing the prosecution of youth as adults.
  • Second Chances for Youth – Challenging the misuse of juvenile records and promoting re-entry and educational access for youth in the justice system.
  • Fairness and Due Process – Fighting for procedural due process, access to counsel, and promoting racial and economic justice.
  • Community Responses – Promoting diversion, reducing referrals to the justice system, supporting family and community-based interventions, and de-criminalizing typical adolescent behavior.

It would seem that the center’s other co-founder, JLC Deputy Director Marsha Levick, is not interested. The notice on the center’s website says that Levick, who leads litigation and policy advocacy for the firm, “will remain with Juvenile Law Center.”

JLC’s history of litigation dates back to its involvement in Santiago v. City of Philadelphia, a class-action lawsuit about the conditions of confinement in a Philadelphia juvenile detention center.

The center’s legal docket expanded during the 1990s and again in the following decade. It filed one of several compelling briefs in the Roper v. Simmons case, the first of several U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the past decade that banned juvenile exposure to the death penalty and limited their exposure to life without parole sentences.

JLC gained significant publicity in 2009 for its involvement in the “Kids for Cash” scandal in Luzerne County, Penn., in which judges accepted kickbacks from developers interested in creating and filling a privately-run juvenile detention center.

The case against judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan began with a federal prosecution related to the kickbacks, and JLC filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of youths who had been detained in the center. But the JLC had challenged the detention and incarceration practices of Ciavarella for more than ten years, well before the longtime juvenile judge had a financial motive for his decision-making.

The search for Schwartz’s successor will be conducted by a committee that includes Levick and Supervising Attorney Jessica Feierman, and seven members of the JLC Board of Directors.

John Kelly is the editor of The Chronicle of Social Change.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.