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Improving Youth Defense



In May 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in In re Gault that established the right to counsel for youth in delinquency cases. Despite progress made nearly 56 years since that decision, the promise of In re Gault has yet to become a reality for many of America's youth. Research funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in Indigent Defense for Juveniles indicates that less than half of all youth in custody (42 percent) and just 50 percent of youth in detention facilities report that they have a lawyer.

Youth defenders play a critical role in ensuring fairness, equity, and due process for youth, reducing the risk of reoffending by addressing collateral consequences and improving youth outcomes, and in preserving public confidence in the juvenile justice systems.


Enhancing Juvenile Indigent Defense

Through this program, OJJDP is working to ensure that all youth involved with the juvenile justice systems have equal access to specialized, well-resourced, youth defense counsel, and that the nation's youth defenders have the training, resources, and support they need to be effective.

Grantees use program funds to:

  • assess and improve the quality and availability of legal services and resources
  • develop and implement training and programs, and improve policies and practice for youth defenders in line with National Youth Defense Standards
  • ensure that youth have access to resources that address the collateral consequences of justice system involvement
  • develop holistic service models that incorporate both social and legal services
  • expand and strengthen appellate and post-disposition advocacy
  • improve juvenile court data collection and increase data-driven decision making. 

Training and Technical Assistance

Through training, technical assistance, advocacy, networking, and collaboration, the Gault Center helps build the capacity of juvenile defender offices and improve the quality of representation for justice-involved youth through specialized training, tools, resources, and intensive technical assistance. The center maintains a clearinghouse of information on youth defense and children's constitutional rights.


Between fiscal years (FY) 2017 and 2022, OJJDP awarded more than $11.5 million toward improving the quality and availability of youth defense nationwide.

  • Fiscal Year 2022—$2.5 million
  • Fiscal Year 2021—$2.2 million
  • Fiscal Year 2020—$1.7 million

From the Field

Youth defense is an area of highly specialized practice requiring distinct skills and knowledge. To support development of that expertise, the Utah Indigent Defense Commission's Utah Statewide Juvenile Delinquency Defense Training and Sustainable Capacity Project offers an ongoing quarterly training program for attorneys appointed to represent youth across the state. The Commission is developing a series of five youth defense practice toolkits: a Juvenile Record Expungement Toolkit, a Toolkit for Representing Youth Charged with Sex Offenses, a Statewide Contacts and Resource Guide, a Timelines and New Practitioner Toolkit, and a Suppression Hearings Toolkit. With an eye to building sustainable capacity, the project fosters a statewide community of defenders through mentorship initiatives and intensive outreach work. The project also aims to amplify youth experience and center the importance of system-involved voices through a series of panels featuring young adults with prior involvement in the delinquency system. 



Multimedia and Data Visualizations:

Statistical Briefing Book:

Topical Data:

Date Created: October 9, 2020