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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 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!
  • May 3, 2017 - Des Moines, Iowa

    Middleton Center for Children’s Rights Panel: Gault at 50

    Drake University Law School’s Joan and Lyle Middleton Center for Children’s Rights will host a panel to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case In Re Gault.
  • May 12, 2017 - Cary, North Carolina

    Juvenile Representation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

    This CLE provides attendees with effective strategies for juvenile representation from practitioners in the field, juvenile judges and youth impacted by contact with the juvenile justice system.
  • May 15, 2017 - Online

    NC OJD’s Twitter Town Hall

    Please join the conversation on Twitter on May 15th as NC OJD hosts its first Twitter Town Hall commemorating 50 years of Gault!
  • May 15, 2017 - Washington, D.C.

    Gault at 50 Gala

    Join the National Juvenile Defender Center on May 15, 2017, for a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of In re Gault, the Supreme Court decision that affirmed children’s right to counsel in juvenile court. As a community, we will honor the progress our country has made since the landmark 1967 decision and chart the course forward to protect children’s civil and due process rights. Tickets for the gala cost $175 for...
  • May 16, 2017 - Washington

    The Right to Remain Children: Race and Juvenile Justice 50 Years after Gault

    The symposium will be an interdisciplinary workshop for juvenile justice stakeholders that will provide attendees with concrete strategies to address and overcome racial disparities in juvenile court.
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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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