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Maryland: An Assessment of Access to Counsel and Quality of Representation in Delinquency Proceedings

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2003
87 pages
This report offers an assessment of access to counsel and quality of representation in delinquency proceedings for children in the State of Maryland.
This report, which focuses specifically on the state of access to counsel for children in Maryland, is part of a nationwide effort to address deficiencies in juvenile indigent defense practices. Data for this assessment were collected through extensive interviews with judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, intake officers, probation officers, court clerks, detention center staff, police officers, children and families, and policymakers in the State of Maryland. Additionally, observations were conducted of juvenile court proceedings in selected counties, site visits were made to every juvenile detention center in Maryland, and extensive legal and literature reviews were undertaken. Results indicate that the juvenile defense system in Maryland is centralized and statewide, but various systemic barriers and obstacles were noted in the overall system delivery. Significant findings indicate that despite the centralized nature of the juvenile justice system, there is no consistent internal oversight of indigent juvenile defense practices. Inconsistent policies and practices within public defender offices creates significant gaps in juvenile defense representation which results in the absence of counsel at various stages of the justice process, unequal access to counsel for Maryland’s poor children, and inadequate preparation for juvenile cases at all points in the justice process. The report notes that, in addition to unequal access to counsel for poor children, the majority of youth in detention are incarcerated without adequate and effective representation; many defenders are poorly prepared in transfer and waiver cases; many defenders are ill prepared for adjudication and disposition hearings; and a lack of financial support results in an under-evaluation of juvenile defense services. Furthermore, the evaluation finds support for the argument that the Maryland juvenile justice system serves as a “dumping ground” for children who have been failed by the mental health systems and the school systems. Other findings indicate that in every county visited, minorities are overrepresented in Maryland’s juvenile justice system and that girls are offered few services that deal specifically with the main causes of female delinquency. Despite these problems, the report summarizes some of the promising approaches found within Maryland’s juvenile justice system and offers 10 recommendations for the improvement of the juvenile justice system in this State. Endnotes

Date Published: October 1, 2003