UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Joshua Branch was in middle school, a teacher told him he would never be an attorney because he “goofed around too much.”
Branch, now a Zubrow Fellow in Children’s Law at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, takes pride in the fact that he is proving that teacher wrong.
The Schreyer Honors Scholar alumnus and Paterno Fellow was recently honored with a Youth Justice Leadership Institute Fellowship from the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN). The fellowship is a year-long leadership development program for youth justice reform advocates. Branch is one of nine fellows for 2019-20.
“It’s nice to be recognized for the work but also to have the opportunity for additional training and professional development,” Branch said, “to ensure that I’m keeping pace to be a leader in the field long-term.”
Branch graduated from Penn State with honors in political science and sociology in 2013. His interest in juvenile law was inspired by his experiences in Teach for America in Miami and grew during his years at Georgetown Law School. His desire to serve communities has roots in the Schreyer Honors College.
“I just remember being surrounded by so many different colleagues at Schreyer who were all doing amazing things within their field,” he said. “And one common theme I found with a lot of them, particularly with students in the Liberal Arts fields, was this desire to use that curiosity to give back to communities.”
As the focus of his work for the NJJN fellowship, Branch is leading a campaign to eliminate fines and fees assessed against juveniles in Maryland through a statewide bill.
“These kids don’t have money to spend toward legal costs,” he said. “In some jurisdictions, their probation might be extended or they might be held in contempt as adults for not paying a fine, even though they did the rest of their probationary requirements.”
The driving force behind Branch’s work, he said, is “a soft spot for kids,” but he believes that the work he and others in the Juvenile Law Center and the NJJN are doing has far-reaching ramifications.
“We can alleviate a lot of issues, including general poverty in communities of color, if we’re willing to reinvest in children,” he said. “If you invest in the front end, you don’t have to deal with all the criminal justice costs that come out the back end, including recidivism.
“The idea of giving up on a child is just reprehensible to me," he added. "This work is essentially doing the opposite of that, ensuring that we’re trying to give back to communities and the kids as much as possible to ensure good outcomes.”