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Francine Sherman, a clinical professor at Boston College Law School.
Francine Sherman, a clinical professor at Boston College Law School.Lee Pellegrini

As founder of the Juvenile Rights Advocacy Program at Boston College Law School, clinical professor Francine Sherman has advocated for juvenile justice reform and public policy involving children’s rights for more than 20 years.

The Newton resident has testified before Congress, acted as a consultant for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s National Girls Initiative, and served on a US Department of Justice National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women focusing on children and teens victimized by domestic violence and sexual assault.

Last month, Sherman was honored by the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps with the Embracing the Legacy Award for her national work that parallels Kennedy’s quest for social justice on behalf of society’s most vulnerable youth and families.

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“I’m deeply honored to be receiving this award,” said Sherman, who is also cofounder of Artistic Noise, an arts and entrepreneurship program for youth involved in the juvenile justice system in Boston and New York. “It shows the issue is important, and people are thinking about it.”

While Massachusetts has one of the lowest incarceration rates of female teens in the country, according to Sherman, other parts of the country aren’t as progressive in identifying alternative programs and services to help girls whose violations are triggered by trauma from sexual abuse and other violence.

In her most recent study published last September, “Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls,” Sherman and co-author Annie Balck revealed that arrests of girls 13 to 18 years old have increased 45 percent nationwide over the past two decades. Detentions and court caseloads rose by 40 percent, and post-adjudication placement increased by 42 percent.

Sherman’s current report, “Voices of Young Women: Beyond the Justice System,” involves interviews with 20 women, ages 18 to 37, who grew up in the juvenile justice system across the country.

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While many continue to struggle with issues related to trauma, re-incarceration, unemployment, homelessness, illness, poverty, and violent relationships, Sherman said, they are proud of their survival stories and all they have accomplished.

In fact, Sherman is planning to turn their portraits of resiliency into a book.

“The work will illustrate qualities and struggles we all share,” she said. “There is humanity in all of us, a connection the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy made naturally.”


Cindy Cantrell may be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.