Rutgers-Camden Law Professor Awarded Juvenile Defense Honor

CAMDEN — The National Juvenile Defender Center has selected a Rutgers–Camden law professor as the recipient of its distinguished Robert E. Shepherd Award for Excellence in Juvenile Defense.

Sandra Simkins, a clinical professor and chair for clinical programs at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden, received the award at the Juvenile Defender Leadership Summit held in Puerto Rico in October. Simkins directs Rutgers–Camden’s Children’s Justice Clinic.

Laura Cohen, a clinical professor at the Rutgers School of Law–Newark, also received the award.

“It’s quite extraordinary because our clinic has filled a legal gap for children across the state of New Jersey. It’s a great achievement to be honored by your peers for that work,” Simkins says.

Simkins was recognized for both longstanding achievements in juvenile justice and her work in the appellate court case “In the Interest of J.J.”

For the case, Simkins and Rutgers–Camden law students enrolled in the Children’s Justice Clinic represented a disabled child who was sent to an adult prison even though juvenile courts recommended he stay in a mental treatment facility after he turned 18.

“We challenged the regulation that allowed his transfer and the regulation was deemed unconstitutional,” Simkins says. “It’s great to have real tangible success because not only did it impact the client, but it will also help many other children by preventing it from happening again.”

Simkins continues, “To have given our students the opportunity to work on a case this significant is rewarding. A lot of students come to law school because they want to make a difference. I hope that by seeing how this case made a difference, students are motivated to do more pro bono work in the future.”

Prior to joining the Rutgers–Camden law faculty in 2006, Simkins spent 15 years working in criminal and juvenile defense. She served as assistant chief of the Juvenile Unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia and has been involved in wide range of national and statewide policy reform for children.

A Wyndmoor, Pa. resident, Simkins received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware and her juris doctor from the Rutgers School of Law–Camden.

The National Juvenile Defender Center was created in 1999 to respond to the critical need to build the capacity of the juvenile defense bar and improve access to counsel and quality of representation for children in the justice system.

The Juvenile Defender Leadership Summit is the center’s major annual training event. It brings together juvenile defenders from every state and the District of Columbia for information sharing, training, networking, organizing, and strategic planning.

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