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Broken Contracts: Reimagining High-Quality Representation of Youth in Contract and Appointed Counsel Systems

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2020
24 pages
This report and the accompanying toolkit provide policymakers and managers of appointed counsel systems for youth in the justice system with information and support to improve the quality of representation provided by appointed counsel.
The U.S. Supreme Court's 1967 landmark ruling in "In re Gault" affirms that children in delinquency court are entitled to many of the constitutional protections afforded adults in criminal court. Chief among these constitutional protections is the right to counsel. The quality of legal representation children receive should not reflect the county in which they live, nor the system used to uphold their constitutional rights. To address this issue, the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) convened about 30 juvenile defense system experts from across the country in May 2018. They had a full-day discussion of how jurisdictions operate delinquency contract counsel systems, how these systems could be improved, and the essentials of contract counsel systems that support attorneys who provide high-quality defense for youth. The group created three working groups that focused on the following subject areas deemed crucial to quality contract counsel systems: Leadership and Oversight, Contracts and Fees, and Data. During the following year, these working groups identified best practices and the resources contract counsel systems need to start improving their structures and the quality of representation provided. The products of these working groups inform the current report; and the research, drafting, and editing done by the working groups is evident in the accompanying toolkit. The shortcomings in existing legal defense systems are identified; however, this report advises they can be addressed within existing contract counsel system structures by adopting standards, formalizing contracts, instituting oversight, and reforming payment systems.

Date Published: January 1, 2020