Interested in advocating for racial justice for youth? Want to challenge indiscriminate shackling? Wondering how to serve dual status youth? Want to figure out ways that defense attorneys and prosecutors may work together on behalf of our youth?
The National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) is there as a resource.
About the National Juvenile Defender Center
The National Juvenile Defender Center, according to its website, “is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting justice for all children by ensuring excellence in juvenile defense. Through community building, training, and policy reform, it provides national leadership on juvenile defense issues with a focus on curbing the deprivation of young people’s rights in the court system.”1
NJDC’s reach “extends to urban, suburban, rural, and tribal areas, where we elevate the voices of youth, families, and defenders to create positive case outcomes and meaningful opportunities for children.”2
NJDC also “works with broad coalitions to ensure that the reform of juvenile courts includes the protection of children’s rights – particularly the right to counsel.”3
For nearly two years, I have had the honor of being a member of the National Advisory Board (NAB) for NJDC and co-director of the Midwest Juvenile Defender Center (MJDC).
I invite you to use NJDC as a resource as you serve system-involved youth.
NJDC elaborates on its website that the foundation of its work “is to understand how juvenile defense is delivered around the country and to support excellence in the provision of those services. As part of that work, NJDC conducts state-specific assessments of youth access to, and the quality of, juvenile defense counsel when they come in contact with the delinquency system.” 4
Diane Rondini, U.W. 1987, serves as the legal counsel of the State Public Defender’s office in Madison.
“The assessments provide comprehensive examinations of the systemic and institutional barriers that prevent children from receiving high-quality legal representation. In addition to gathering general data and information about the structure of the juvenile defense system, assessments examine issues related to the timing of appointment of counsel, the frequency with which children waive their right to counsel and under what conditions they do so, resource allocation, attorney compensation, supervision and training, and access to investigators, experts, social workers, and support staff. Assessments also highlight promising approaches and innovative practices within the state and offer recommendations to improve areas where challenges are identified,” according to the NJDC.5
Wisconsin has not yet had the benefit of a state assessment but may want to consider one to highlight much of the positive work done around the state by our partners in the juvenile justice system, and to examine areas where there may be need for improvement.
Campaign Against Indiscriminate Shackling
NJDC spearheaded a campaign against indiscriminate juvenile shackling. As part of this campaign, there are resources available to challenge this practice on a case by case basis as well as by legislation or court rule.
In Sept. 2019, the State Bar of Wisconsin took a position against the indiscriminate shackling of children,6 and, while several Wisconsin counties have established local rules against indiscriminate shackling, not all counties are on board with eliminating this practice.
Using the campaign resources as a guide, more counties across the state could implement local rules against indiscriminate shackling of children.
Promotes Racial Justice
NJDC has taken the lead in promoting racial justice for youth. The Racial Justice Toolkit for Defenders – a collaboration between the Georgetown Law Juvenile Justice Initiative and the NJCD “empowers juvenile defenders with the training, resources, and information to fight the over-policing, over-criminalization, and school exclusion of youth of color.”7
Information is available on community education, confronting bias, case advocacy, policy advocacy, and social media advocacy.
NJDC has also partnered with Georgetown Law’s Juvenile Justice Clinic in establishing the Ambassadors for Racial Justice (ARJ) program. According to its website, ARJ is “a program … for defenders who are committed to challenging racial injustice in the juvenile legal system. The program aims to grow the number of juvenile defenders and juvenile justice advocates equipped to develop strategies to combat racial inequities in their respective jurisdictions and to facilitate difficult conversations on race.”8
For the Courts
You need not be a juvenile defender to benefit from the work of NJDC. In 2018,
“in partnership with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), NJDC has createdAddressing Bias in Delinquency and Child Welfare Systems,”9 that is a “bench card emphasizing that ‘eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile and family courts is critical to creating a fair and equitable system of justice for all youth.’ The Addressing Bias bench card educates juvenile and family court judges about structural, explicit, and implicit bias; provides judges with self-reflection tools to help them recognize and prevent bias in their courtroom; and offers judges concrete strategies to correct implicit bias.”10
Dual Status Youth
For those of you who may find yourself working with dual status youth – those involved in both the child welfare and the juvenile justice systems – NJDC has partnered with Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice and Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps to produce a Resource Brief on Navigation the Dual Status Terrain.
According to the website, “This resource brief addresses the unique considerations associated with representing dual status youth and offers practice tips to help navigate the terrain. This resource brief also explores the growing reform trend of multi-system collaboration and coordination to improve outcomes for dual status youth and offers guidance in this arena as well.”11
Collaboration with Prosecutors
Finally, NJDC is currently collaborating with prosecutors from around the country.
NJDC and Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP) have been working together for the past two years on issues in which the two organizations have identified common ground between juvenile defenders and prosecutors. These two groups are drafting a statement about the importance of specialization for defenders and prosecutors who practice in juvenile court.
Also, with Georgetown Law’s Juvenile Justice Initiative, NJDC is working on a guide for juvenile court practitioners about interpreting youths’ behaviors and language use in court. NJDC also provided training to FJP members about the collateral consequences of juvenile court involvement. When the two groups met, I was personally involved in the round table discussion and was encouraged by the number of areas in which consensus could be reached for our system involved youth.
NJDC is a valuable resource for those serving our youth. Please consider taking some time to explore its website and using its resources. If you have any questions about NJDC, please feel free to contact me.
This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Children & the Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Children & the Law Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.
1 See the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) website.
4 See “State Assessments,” NJDC.info.
6 See “State Bar Board Takes Position Against Indiscriminate Juvenile Shackling,” WisBar News, Sept. 23, 2019.
7 “About the Toolkit,” Racial Justice for Youth: A Toolkit for Defenders, defendracialjustice.org.
8 See the Ambassadors for Racial Justice website.
9 Seethe NJCD Publications webpage.
11 See “Resource Brief: Navigating the Dual Status Terrain: Tips for Juvenile Defenders,” published by the National Juvenile Defender Center and the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, RFK National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice, December 2015, pg. 1.