At 17, A. was arrested, for the first time in her life, and charged in the adult criminal justice system in suburban Philadelphia. She was incarcerated for two months at an adult jail while she awaited trial. A. faced a potential sentence of 3 – 6 years in adult prison for fighting with another girl her age.
A. was in 12th grade at the time of the incident for which she was charged. She also had a part-time job at a pharmacy to support herself and her then-11-month-old son, the light of her life. A.’s son was still nursing when she was arrested and put in jail.
A. was held on $50,000 bail — an amount that did not take into account her age, her financial ability to pay an exorbitant bail, or her “flight risk” as a young woman awaiting trial. A.’s public defender filed a motion to reduce A.’s bail. However, the motion was denied.
In denying the motion, the judge referred to A. as “dangerous,” which shook her. No one had ever described A. in that way before, and this was her first interaction ever with the justice system.
A.’s public defender appealed the bail motion, enlisting the help of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. While the appeal was pending, A. retained a new attorney, who marshalled the resources of the National Bail Out collective to pay her bail, and get her home with her son while she awaited sentencing. A. was released from jail after a full two months away from her baby.
In May 2019, A.’s new attorney, Marni Jo Snyder, with whom YSRP had partnered before, reached out to YSRP for assistance gathering mitigation in support of A.’s efforts to have her case “decertified” to the juvenile system. We were thrilled to partner with A. and with Marni — this case presented an opportunity for YSRP’s model to impact a broader geographical area, as one of the first cases we accepted in the counties outside of Philadelphia.
photo credit: Shira Yudkoff
photo credit: Shira Yudkoff
A. was home when we first met her, and we learned firsthand that she is a fiercely talented artist, an adoring mother, and a bright young woman with ambitions of being an esthetician one day. She also shared with us the horrors she experienced as a young woman in an adult jail, including the inability to breastfeed her baby, and her concerns that she would stop producing milk altogether during this time. This experience only compounded the tragedy of A. being separated from her son, and being confined as a child in an adult jail. During her incarceration, A. lost her part-time job and became disconnected from her schooling.
YSRP prepared A.’s mitigation by learning more about her home life as a child, through numerous conversations with her, and interviews with her family members; and through review of her education and medical records. We also learned about A.’s strengths and goals for the future, and how talented she was as an esthetician. When A. lived with her great-grandfather for a time, her friends would come over for her to practice doing their hair and make-up. He fondly recalled that her friends would leave “looking like movie stars.”
A.’s attorney submitted YSRP’s mitigation report to the Court with the recommendation that A. be decertified to the juvenile system, and not be required to serve time away in a juvenile placement (the equivalent of jail in the juvenile system). Research demonstrates the traumatic effect that separation from a parent can have on a young child, particularly when that separation is due to incarceration of any kind.
Concerted and relentless efforts, in partnership with A.’s attorney, resulted in a deeper level of advocacy for A. that pushed the District Attorney to ultimately agree to “decertify” her case to the juvenile system — the night before A.’s decertification hearing was to take place. The judge agreed with this decision, and A.’s case was transferred to juvenile court, where the felony charges against her were dismissed and she was permitted to remain home with her son.
Today, A. is determined to complete her GED. She is working as a home health aide on a career pathway that can lead to certification and advancement opportunities. She does not bear the burden of having an adult criminal conviction attached to her name.
Most importantly for her, she’s a fixed and constant presence in her son’s life. We know there is a bright future ahead for them both, and we look forward to walking alongside A. as she realizes her dreams.