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National Crisis in Juvenile Indigent Defense

NCJ Number
Juvenile Justice Update Volume: 9 Issue: 1 Dated: February/March 2003 Pages: 1-2,14,15
Patricia Puritz
Date Published
February 2003
4 pages
This article addresses problems associated with the access to counsel and quality of representation afforded to children since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1967, establishing the constitutional right to counsel for children in delinquency proceedings and responses to these identified problems.
Thirty-five years ago, the United States Supreme Court issued a historic decision establishing a constitutional right to counsel for children in delinquency proceedings (In re Gault, 1967), thereby changing the course of juvenile justice and forcing States to put in place a process and a system for delivering legal services to children. Similarly, Congress expressed concern over safeguarding children’s rights and enacted the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 1974. Yet, even with these landmark decisions and acts, the right to counsel in delinquency proceedings has not been fully realized. Since In re Gault, studies have shown that many children have gone through the juvenile justice system without the benefit of counsel and the access to quality of representation they receive is, at best, uneven. Problems identified with the delivery of defense services include: (1) juvenile defense services are routinely chaotic and underfunded; (2) there is a high incidence of youth waiving right to counsel and the clarity of plea bargains; (3) overextending the role of probation officers; and (4) low standards impact and create a lack of professionalism. To solve these problems at the State and local levels, it requires a shared commitment among the parties in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government. Responses to these identified problems have included: the formation of the National Juvenile Defender Training, Technical Assistance and Resource Center, the establishment of regional centers to ensure access to competent counsel, and the National Center’s Juvenile Defender Leadership Summit which includes training, networking, organizing, and strategic planning. Together all branches of government play a part in the design and delivery of juvenile indigent defense services and systems.


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