California Selected for MacArthur Foundation Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network

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San Francisco, CA – California has been selected as one of four sites nationally to participate in the Models for Change Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network. The initiative, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, is aimed at developing innovative solutions and strategies to better address the legal needs of youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. California’s eight-member team was selected out of a field of 18 applications, along with New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Florida. The sites will work with four existing Models for Change sites in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Louisiana.

Specific tasks for the project will be developed at an October 2-3, 2008 meeting in Washington, D.C. The California proposal urged the need to broaden access to training and support services for attorneys representing children in juvenile justice cases; develop juvenile practice standards for California; improve tracking and data systems to evaluate system performance; and address resource needs. The proposal also focused on the need to increase defender capacity for involvement at a youth’s earliest points of contact with the system, and for counsel to remain involved during the post-disposition period when programs and services are supposed to be provided.

The California project team represents an unprecedented collaboration between the Administrative Office of the Courts’ Center for Families, Children and the Courts; the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center; the Youth Law Center; the Loyola Law School Center for Juvenile Law and Policy; the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office; the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office; and long time leaders in the juvenile defense community.

Team member Audrey Fancy, Supervising Attorney at the Administrative Office of the Courts, Center for Families, Children and the Courts, noted that, “Our justice system and the greater community benefit when juvenile defenders have the skills, supports and resources to do the job right. This work will intersect with and assist in our efforts to address a number of issues identified in the comprehensive Delinquency Court Assessment 2008. We very much look forward to this collaboration.” Sue Burrell, Staff Attorney at the Youth Law Center and the team coordinator, agreed that, “This will enable us to do in a deliberate way what many of us have wanted to do for a long time. While the juvenile defender community has coalesced over the recent crisis in state facilities, there remain numerous areas where defenders remain in need of training, collaboration, and support. Juvenile defenders must be experts in many areas, including criminal law, juvenile law, adolescent development, education, and mental health, as well as be familiar with the wide range of placement or service options. This project will help us to train defenders to do a better job for young people the system.”

Team member Jonathan Laba, an attorney in the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office and Deputy Director of the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, said of California’s selection: “For too long much of the defender community in California has lacked the training, the resources, and the support to provide optimal representation to clients at all stages in the delinquency system. The MacArthur Indigent Defense Action Network will provide a platform for improving collaboration and for developing and implementing critically needed reforms.” Team member Patti Lee, Managing Attorney in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and Co-Director of the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, expressed gratitude to the Foundation. “The MacArthur Foundation gets a lot of credit for recognizing that helping young people in the system requires quality legal representation. If kids don’t have good lawyers, courts may not have needed insight into the facts of the case or what is needed to resolve the situation, and critical opportunities will be missed.”

The grant letter from the Foundation stated the California group’s selection was based on the team’s demonstrated commitment to improving juvenile indigent defense policy and practice; its ability to bring together critical decision makers and stakeholders; and its readiness to work with other Network members to implement change and provide leadership to other states.

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