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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.

  • Dec 1, 2017 - Highland Heights, Kentucky

    In re Gault: 50 Years & Beyond

    Join us at the Chase College of Law Symposium as we celebrate and review the history of In re Gault, decided 50 years ago, which held that children are individuals who possess their own constitutional rights.
View Events Archive

Media

    Vermont Public Radio
    Jun 14, 2017 - News Item

    Lahey: Due Process for Juveniles

    Fifty years on, many states continue to deny juveniles their right to counsel, either through legislation or in its implementation.
    SJDC
    May 24, 2017 - News Item

    Gault at 50: Conference to Offer Tips for ‘Front-Line’ Juvenile Lawyers

    You could call it the obscene phone call heard 'round the world. The May 1967 Supreme Court ruling that threw out Gerald Gault’s six-year commitment for lewd remarks over the telephone has led to half a century of juvenile justice reform.
    The Atlantic
    May 22, 2017 - News Item

    The Children Being Denied Due Process

    On June 8, 1964, Gerald Gault and Ronald Lewis were arrested when their neighbor, Mrs. Cook, alleged they had made a lewd phone call to her home. The police detained Gerald overnight and held a hearing the next day in the juvenile judge’s chambers.
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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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