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Improving Juvenile Indigent 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 over the five decades since that decision, the promise of In re Gault has yet to become a reality for many of America's youth. Research by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) 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.

Juvenile defenders play a critical role in ensuring fairness and equity for youth and families, and in preserving public confidence in the juvenile justice system. By funding efforts that will help to improve outcomes for indigent juvenile offenders, OJJDP is helping to reduce the risk of reoffending, enhance public safety, and increase the likelihood that these youth will become productive, law-abiding members of society.


Enhancements for Juvenile Indigent Defense

Through this program, OJJDP is working to ensure that all youth involved with the juvenile justice system have equal access to specialized, well-resourced, juvenile defense counsel. Grantees use program funds to improve the quality and availability of legal services, to respond to gaps in practice, and to ensure that juveniles have access to resources that address the collateral consequences of justice system involvement. Funds also may be used for staff training, to improve juvenile courts' data collection efforts, to analyze a jurisdiction's juvenile defense delivery system, and to identify and implement successful strategies that may be replicable across jurisdictions.

Training and Technical Assistance

The OJJDP-sponsored National Juvenile Defender Center provides technical assistance to juvenile defenders and juvenile defense agencies across the country; conducts juvenile-specific trainings for public defenders and court-appointed counsel; supports the creation of specialized juvenile defender units; and develops tools, training, and resources specific to identified regional, state, and local needs. The center maintains a clearinghouse of information on juvenile defense and children's constitutional rights.


Between fiscal years 2017 and 2019, OJJDP awarded more than $5 million to improve the quality of juvenile indigent defense nationwide.

  • Fiscal Year 2019—$1.8 million
  • Fiscal Year 2018—$1.7 million
  • Fiscal Year 2017—$1.6 million

From the Field

Supported by a 2018 grant from OJJDP, Ohio's Hamilton County Public Defender Juvenile Division is developing an innovative, multidisciplinary approach to juvenile defense. The division has extended services for juvenile defendants beyond traditional courtroom representation by integrating a social worker and a mitigation specialist into its service delivery model.

The division is also establishing a participatory defense network to improve outcomes for juveniles within the county. Participatory defense is a community organizing model for youth involved in the justice system, their families, and their communities to positively impact case outcomes.

Together with its community partners, the Hamilton County Public Defender Juvenile Division is providing staff and volunteers with rigorous training on the principles and tools required to effectively implement participatory defense.



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Date Created: October 9, 2020