Spring on the York College campus

Understanding Juvenile Justice

Lisa Layden stands with pad folio in hand outdoors for a photo.

Growing up in a financially struggling single-parent family that endured some scrapes with the law showed Lisa Layden ’07 how a police officer can impact a young person, for better or worse. “I saw very cold, not compassionate responses, and I saw police who were caring, kind, and competent,” she remembers. These experiences sparked an early interest in law enforcement, to help young people in similarly difficult circumstances.

Hired at 28 by the Southwestern Regional Police Department in York County, Layden wanted to set an example for her two sons that she didn’t have growing up: that education matters. She applied for evening classes at YCP. After being invited to talk to a juvenile justice class, she saw the white tent set up for graduation and thought, “I want to be here as a student.”

At YCP, Layden learned how to help juveniles facing the criminal justice system. “I’d already been a police officer for eight years when I took a Case Law and Constitutional Law class taught by Dr. Gary Willis,” she says. “This helped me understand social justice and led to my senior research project.” This project, under the direction of Dr. Eric Ling, focused on juvenile justice programs.

“As a patrol officer,” Layden says, “the knowledge and understanding gained at York College helped me use more discretion, rather than always just ‘throwing the book’ at juveniles in trouble.” She sometimes recommended social services rather than punishment. “I took those opportunities to show these kids they can make their lives what they want, but not if they make mistakes now.”

This year, Layden became West Hempfield Township’s first female police chief. She says being a woman in law enforcement was never an issue at York College and hasn’t been one in her 24 years as a police officer. Rather, York College’s strong curriculum allowed her to blaze her own trail.

“The Criminal Justice curriculum is strong. Every professor was an outstanding teacher, very encouraging and available,” she says, adding York College’s high standards for writing and research helped her succeed in getting her master’s degree and put her well on the way to a PhD.

“My two boys, both now college grads, and my mom watched me graduate from York College,” she says. “I still remember where I parked that day, and still have my letter of acceptance as a non-traditional student.”