Today, the National Juvenile Defender Center released a new report on an open secret in America’s juvenile courts: children are routinely denied access to lawyers, or receive representation so inadequate that it provides little protection.
Defend Children: A Blueprint for Effective Juvenile Defender Services details how children are arrested, prosecuted, and too often incarcerated without attorneys at their side. Youth, and disproportionately youth of color, are swept into a system that criminalizes normal childhood behavior and deliberately withholds rights and protections that children not only deserve, but are constitutionally entitled to receive. Our most vulnerable defendants are the least likely to have effective attorneys in juvenile courtrooms.
The Blueprint is informed by thousands of hours of juvenile court observation, assessments of state juvenile defense systems that measure access to and quality of children’s legal representation, and invaluable observations and expertise from our community of defenders, researchers, and advocates.
Juvenile court has evolved over the last 100 years to impose harsh, life-altering penalties, and yet the justice system continues to treat juvenile court as a training ground for new and inexperienced attorneys. It’s long past time for every jurisdiction to have the resources, specialized knowledge, and leadership to fulfill the constitutional promise of counsel for all youth.
The Blueprint proposes solutions to the ongoing crisis in juvenile defense; illustrates its disparate impact on historically oppressed communities; and highlights innovative and replicable programs across the country that are improving children’s access to justice.
Please share the Blueprint report – and the executive summary – with your colleagues, networks, and local decision-makers. Take a look at our social media toolkit for sample posts to spread the word, and use our talking points as a tool to start a dialogue with your juvenile court judge, or to write a letter to your state legislator.
Here are a few Tweets to get you started:
As a community, we’re on the front lines of this crisis—and that means we’re of the small few who bear witness to the civil and due process rights violations children endure every day. We must cultivate passionate leaders in juvenile defense, end the insidious racism that drives court practices and policy, and continue fighting to uphold children’s rights, freedoms, and futures.
It’s up to us to lead. We hope this report will guide the way forward.
Mary Ann Scali
Acting Executive Director
National Juvenile Defender Center