I feel like Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system failed me | Opinion

Anahi Figueroa-Martinez, PennLive.com •
North Hampton County Juvenile Justice Center

Every youth needs support when entering state systems - it doesn’t matter if they enter the justice or child welfare system. Each youth’s needs are different, and not every case is the same. Many don’t have much support at all. I know this, from many of my friends who were in both systems and from my own direct experience.

When I entered both the justice and foster care systems, the only supportive adult I had was my case worker. I lost many kinds of connections, including my ties and connections to my adoptive family.

When I first entered into the justice system I was not going to be arrested. The police told me no charges would be pressed against me, but since they couldn’t reach my adoptive parents, or a guardian for me, I was placed in multiple holding facilities in both the justice and child welfare system. While in the system, I was forced to take depression pills (Zoloft) instead of them connecting me to the proper care. I needed and wanted a good therapist that could help me through what I was going through - the grief and loss I felt from losing my family.

I wanted a therapist who had time for me, and that wasn’t assigned to 25 other youth on their caseload from the same facility.

I never got connected to an outside therapist, and no one on staff or my case tried to reunite me and my family. My education was also dramatically impacted by the system. I was in the justice system for two years and only gained 3.5 worth of credits when I was placed back into a community school.

I feel like the system failed me as a youth all around.


About the Expert
Anahi completed four years in Advocates for Youth Justice (A4YJ), as a youth advocate through Juvenile Law Center’s Youth Advocacy Program and graduated from the program in 2019. She remains on as an active alumnus. Anahi also serves on the Youth Steering Committee as a youth advocate representative from Advocates for Youth Justice with the Care Not Control Coalition working to end Youth Incarceration in the state of Pennsylvania. She is also a certified Community Health Worker. Anahi has worked on various issues, and contributed to multiple publications as a member of A4YJ some of which include Another Chance: Youth Perspective and Recommendations to Create Positive Alternatives to Imposing Costs, Fines, and Fees, Broken Bridges: How Juvenile Placements Cut off Youth from Communities and Successful Futures. She was recently selected to serve as a youth advocate on the John Hopkins University Youth Advocates for Research in the Justice System Committee.