14-Year-Old Female Prisoner Exposes Flaws in PA Juvenile Justice

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A 14-year old girl is being held in an adult prison because state officials believe it is the safest place for her, reports PennLive. Claire E. Miller, accused of fatally stabbing her 19-year-old sister Helen in Lancaster County last month, was moved to the state prison in Clinton Township, Lycoming County, on March 4. She was previously being held in isolation in the Lancaster County Prison, the first juvenile female to be held there. Pennsylvania currently requires all juveniles charged with homicide to be “direct filed” to the adult criminal justice system. Juveniles in the adult system are excluded from the Juvenile Act and are required to be housed in adult facilities, Department of Corrections Press Secretary Maria Bivens said.

The law is controversial, as many juveniles eventually are transferred back to the juvenile system, but by then they have suffered harm from months or years in adult facilities, according to juvenile advocates. Housing a juvenile in an adult facility is made all the more complicated by the requirements set by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a 2003 federal law aimed at preventing sexual violence against inmates which states that juveniles housed in adult facilities must be separated by sight and sound from adults. “For most counties, this either results in the county not complying with PREA because they simply don’t have an empty housing unit which is what would be required, or they house a juvenile on a housing unit by themselves – in other words, isolate them,” said Department of Corrections Press Secretary Maria Bivens. As a result, Miller was being held alone in a cell at the women’s unit of the county prison, a poor solution as, in either case, a child can end up more likely to commit a crime and be left unequipped to be successful adults. Miller is one of two girls who are the only female juveniles in adult prison right now across the state.

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