In the words of a great educator and humanitarian, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, we have “a responsibility to our young people … for they are to be the leaders of tomorrow.” To that end, we must confront the risks that block today’s youth from reaching their potential and direct them toward success and power. To accomplish this goal, the entire community must make the necessary commitment and sacrifice.
High rates of school truancy and dropout among youth, particularly in urban communities, is a front-end issue of the juvenile justice and adult criminal justice systems that requires society’s full attention. Breaking what some have labeled the “cycle from school to prison,” the “prison pipeline” or the “pipeline from cradle to prison” has to be a priority in fulfilling the responsibility to young people.
Another challenge involves developing effective ways to help individuals returning from incarceration succeed upon reentry into the community. It is a well-known fact that successful reentry promotes public safety and requires effort from all branches of government and the community as a whole. It also reinforces the determination that education must become the number one priority for all of today’s youth.
A former appeals court judge on Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania for over two decades, Judge Smith-Ribner has traveled a long way from the days as a teen employed in the law offices of a prominent criminal appellate law specialist to having spent 35+ years in public service in Pennsylvania. As a lawyer in western Pennsylvania she engaged in extensive state and federal court litigation in civil and criminal matters, and upon becoming a trial judge on the Allegheny County Bench she was assigned to Juvenile Court where she applied her broad experience in juvenile law and juvenile justice issues.
On the statewide appeals court, Judge Smith-Ribner decided cases that impacted upon all areas of local and state government. The cases ranged from challenges to campaign finance laws that place limits on the amount of political contributions that could be made to local candidates; to whether a school district provided equal educational opportunity to all eligible public school children as required by law; to the right of ex-felons to vote upon release from incarceration; to rights of landowners under land use laws; to rights of injured and unemployed workers; and to a host of other significant and far-reaching cases.
After decades that have been filled with extraordinarily hard work, great learning experiences and many exciting challenges, Judge Smith-Ribner has now embarked upon another phase of her public service career. It includes research and writing and active participation and involvement in educational reform, juvenile justice reform and criminal justice reform that consumes much of her attention since stepping down from the state appeals court bench in 2009.