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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.

  • May 31, 2017 - Columbus, Ohio

    13th Annual Ohio Juvenile Defender Leadership Summit

    This year, for the 13th annual summit, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision In re Gault and the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Ohio's In re C.S., which strengthened the right to counsel for Ohio’s youth.
  • Jun 2, 2017 - Atlanta, Georgia

    SJDC 7th Annual Regional Summit: Gault at 50

    The Southern Juvenile Defender Center is hosting its 7th Annual Regional Summit, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of In re Gault. The Summit will take place at Emory University School of Law.
  • Jun 11, 2017 - Washington, DC

    2017 Juvenile Training Immersion Program (JTIP) Summer Academy

    The National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) and the Georgetown Law Juvenile Justice Clinic are excited to announce a Call for Applications to the 2017 Juvenile Training Immersion Program (JTIP) Summer Academy.
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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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