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Juvenile indigent defense

Meaningful access to legal counsel for all youth.

Young people in trouble with the law have a right to legal counsel, but they frequently don’t get the timely or adequate representation they need. Many youth waive their constitutional right to counsel and accept plea offers without fully understanding their actions.

Juvenile defense attorneys are a critical shield against unfairness and serve as a crucial counterweight in a system that can lead to harmful outcomes for youth. Juvenile defenders must understand adolescent development, how to access community-based programs, and how to effectively engage parents or guardians without compromising the attorney-client relationship. Many states have yet to adequately train juvenile defenders with the expertise they need.

Models for Change worked to improve access to, and quality of, counsel for every young person who enters the juvenile justice system. The four core states of Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana and Washington, as well as additional states involved in the Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network, worked to support and spread efforts to improve juvenile defense policy.

In its involvement in the Models for Change Resource center partnership, the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) worked to improve access to counsel and the quality of representation for children in the justice system. NJDC bolsters juvenile defense by: supporting the creation and replication of field-driven innovations; facilitating the adoption of new juvenile justice defense standards; and developing a corps of certified juvenile indigent defense trainers.

Through assessments, training and technical support, Models for Change promoted meaningful access for legal counsel for all youth.

Featured publications

Initiative tools, research, knowledge, and innovations to promote reform

Publication cover National Juvenile Defense Standards
Feb 4, 2013, National Juvenile Defender Center
The National Juvenile Defense Standards are a comprehensive understanding of the role and duties of the juvenile defender in the 21st century juvenile court system, and seek to strengthen and guide…
Publication cover Juvenile Defense Attorneys: A Critical Protection Against Injustice
Apr 14, 2014, National Juvenile Defender Center
Stakes are high when youth come into contact with the juvenile justice system. When a child’s liberty and freedom are at risk, meaningful access to legal advice and the counsel of a juvenile…
Publication cover Innovation Brief: Raising the Standards of Juvenile Indigent Defense
Dec 1, 2011, Juvenile Law Center
Pennsylvania’s county-based approach to juvenile defense created a patchwork system in which children in some counties received excellent representation while those in other locations did not,…
Publication cover Developing Statutes for Competence to Stand Trial in Juvenile Delinquency Proceedings: A Guide for Lawmakers
Apr 2, 2012, Kimberly Larson
The purpose of this guide is to assist states in developing legislation that will provide clear assistance for juvenile courts when applying competence to stand trial to juvenile court proceedings.…
Publication cover Innovation Brief: Avoiding and Mitigating the Collateral Consequences of a Juvenile Adjudication
Dec 12, 2013, National Juvenile Defender Center
The majority of youth who come into contact with the juvenile court system have one court contact and never return. And even among those youth who do return to juvenile court, most do not become…

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Leading organizations

Network partners advancing reforms and providing assistance, lessons, and support

National Juvenile Defender Center
(202) 452-0010
Juvenile Law Center
(215) 625-0551

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Supported by

Models for Change was a juvenile justice systems reform initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.