Philadelphia Bar Association Resolution Supporting H.R. 5053 or Similar Legislation to Protect Youth in Confinement by Exempting Youth from the Requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act

WHEREAS, the Philadelphia Bar Association supports access to justice and the well-being of all youth impacted by the criminal and juvenile justice systems; and

WHEREAS, the care, protection, safety and wholesome mental and physical development of youth are pillars of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act and juvenile justice systems throughout the country;1 and

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that youth deserve enhanced protections, relative to adults, in accordance with their mental development;2 and

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court has long held that a child’s immaturity and lack of knowledge can pose unique obstacles to navigating legal systems;3 and

WHEREAS, youth in Pennsylvania and throughout the country face abuse and harm in juvenile and criminal justice facilities;4 and

WHEREAS, psychological injuries are uniquely harmful to youth, whose brains are still developing; and

WHEREAS, the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) creates obstacles to the courts for young people facing abuse in juvenile and criminal justice institutions by requiring teenagers to file grievances in a facility before bringing a lawsuit; limiting the kind of relief youth can receive from the courts for injuries in these facilities; preventing youth from bringing lawsuits for emotional injuries without physical injuries; and limiting attorney’s fees; and

WHEREAS, youth face unique challenges in complying with the administrative exhaustion requirement of the PLRA which requires youth to file a grievance in a facility before they can ask a court’s help because youth often lack the literacy and life skills needed to understand complex facility procedures and to comply with expectations;5 and

WHEREAS, unique protections are needed for young people under age 22 because adolescent brain development is not complete until an individual is in their mid-20’s6 and this distinction is recognized by other federal law protecting young people under age 22;7 and

WHEREAS, due to the PLRA, youth are often deprived access to the court to seek remedies for the abuses they suffer in juvenile and criminal justice facilities; and

WHEREAS, Pennsylvania Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon has introduced the Justice for Juveniles Act, H.R. 5053, 116th Cong. (2019), bipartisan legislation which protects youth from abuse in jails, prisons, and secure juvenile justice facilities by exempting them from the PLRA.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Philadelphia Bar Association urges the United States Congress to pass the Justice for Juveniles Act, H.R. 5053, 116th Cong. (2019) or similar legislation to remove youth ages 21 and younger from the PLRA;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Chancellor, or her designee, shall communicate the Philadelphia Bar Association’s position on the Justice for Juveniles Act, H.R. 5053, 116th Cong. (2019), or on any similar legislation, to the President, members of Congress, the legal profession, the media, and the public, and to take such other action as may be necessary to effectuate this resolution.

Adopted: April 23, 2020

1 42 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6301 (West); Richard Bonnie et al., Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach (2013).

2 See, e.g., Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 569 (holding the death penalty unconstitutional as applied to youth); Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S 48 (2010) (holding certain life without parole sentences unconstitutional as applied to youth); J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 564 U.S. 261, 272 (2011), (holding that the Miranda custody determination must take youth into account).

3 See, e.g., J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 564 U.S. 261, 272 (2011); Haley v. Ohio, 332 U.S. 596, 599–600 (1948); Gallegos v. Colorado, 370 U.S. 49, 54 (1962)(youth are uniquely vulnerable in interrogations); Graham, 560 U.S., at 78, 130 S.Ct., at 2032 (youth are at “a significant disadvantage in criminal proceedings”); Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 477–78 (2012) (youth have difficulties dealing with police officers, prosecutors, or assisting in their own defense).

4 See, e.g., Lisa Gartner, Beaten, then Silenced: At the Oldest U.S. Reform School for Boys, Leaders of the Prestigious Glen Mills Schools in Pennsylvania have Hidden a Long History of Violence, Philadelphia Inquirer (Feb. 20, 2019),; Samantha Melamed, Why Can’t Philly Stop Holding Kids in Solitary Confinement?, Philadelphia Inquirer (April 19, 2017),; The Annie E. Casey Foundation, No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration (Oct. 4, 2011),; Campaign for Youth Justice, Let’s Get Children Out of Adult Courts, Jails, and Prisons

5 See Nicola A. Cohen, Why Ross v. Black Opens a Door to Federal Courts for Incarcerated Adolescents, 51(2) Columbia J. L. and Social Problems 177, 179-180 (2017),; Anna Rapa, One Brick Too Many: The Prison Litigation Reform Act As A Barrier to Legitimate Juvenile Lawsuits, 23 T.M. Cooley L. Rev. 263 (2006).


7 See, e.g., 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A)(guaranteeing special education rights to youth up to age 21).