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Blueprint for Reform

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 (the Blueprint) 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.

Blueprint Recommendations

  1. Champion, Uphold, and Fund Children’s Right to Counsel
  2. Ensure Meaningful Access to Counsel Throughout the Delinquency Process
  3. Implement Strong, Well-Resourced, and Specialized Juvenile Defense Systems
  4. Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities
  5. Attract and Retain New and Diverse Talent to the Field of Juvenile Defense
  6. Protect the Rights of Youth Who Face Additional Discrimination and Violation of their Constitutional Rights
  7. Fund and Implement Mechanisms to Collect Data, Conduct Assessments and Court Observations, and Initiate Evaluation and Research

Resources

  • Full Report
  • Executive Summary
  • Talking Points: start a dialogue with your juvenile court judge, or write a letter to your state legislator
  • Social Media Toolkit: sample posts to help you share the Blueprint on Twitter and Facebook
  • Graphics: click the images below to download and share with your Twitter and Facebook posts
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    Graphic-Criminalizing-Childhood  Graphic-Blueprint

In re Gault was a giant step forward for the rights of children. Yet, due to inconsistent enforcement and lack of awareness, the due process rights of our children in delinquency court are not protected. We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.

1million

juvenile delinquency cases each year

31

states have no laws saying how young is too young to prosecute a child

21

states do not restrict shackling of children in juvenile court

33

states do not allow jury trials in juvenile court

Upcoming Events

The National Juvenile Defender Center and its allies and partners will be commemorating the Gault decision in the run up to the 50th anniversary. Find an event below.

  • Apr 20, 2017 - Denver, Colorado

    Gault at 50: What Difference Does a Lawyer Make?

    Join the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center, Colorado Office of the Public Defender, Colorado Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel & Colorado Office of the Child’s Representative for a free symposium addressing the current state of access to qualified counsel.
  • Apr 21, 2017 - Memphis, Tennessee

    In re Gault: Inspiration & Aspiration

    Statewide symposium and JTIP training in Tennessee examining the legacy of In re Gault.
  • Apr 21, 2017 - Denver, Colorado

    5th Annual Excellence in Juvenile Defense Conference

    Join us for a full day of CLE credits! Topics include defending juveniles in sex offense cases, addressing trauma and language disabilities, effective oral advocacy, ethics, and so much more! Hosted by CJDC and ADC.
  • Apr 21, 2017 - Houston, Texas

    Southwest Juvenile Defender Center’s 16th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference: Gault @ 50

    The Southwest Juvenile Defender Center is hosting its 16th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference: Gault @ 50 on April 21 and 22, 2017, at the University of Houston Law School.
  • Apr 23, 2017 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Gault at 50 Discussion

    On Sunday, April 23, 2017, at 11 am, Professor Sandra Simkins, Director and Co-founder of the Children's Justice Clinic at Rutgers School of Law, is giving a talk, "Gault at 50," at the Philadelphia Ethical Society.
  • Apr 29, 2017 - Los Angeles, California

    35th Annual Juvenile Delinquency Law Training Seminar in Los Angeles

    Join the Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office, Juvenile Division, for its annual training in juvenile defense. Topics include adolescent development, raising race, and effectively working with experts. More info to come!
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About NJDC

At the National Juvenile Defender Center, we promote justice for all children by ensuring excellence in juvenile defense. NJDC was founded to guarantee every child facing prosecution in juvenile court is represented by an attorney who is specialized and trained to defend children.

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