The National Juvenile Defender Center develops and advocates policy reform in partnership with governments, philanthropic foundations, agencies, and advocacy organizations at local, state, and national levels. Much of our policy work is focused on implementing the reforms recommended in our state assessments of access to counsel and quality of representation.

Please find sample legislation, testimony, and other resources related to our policy work below. Please contact us if you are interested in collaborating with us on efforts in your area. (For relevant, current statutes and court rules of each state, see our state data page.)

Access to Counsel

Competency Determination

Defense Standards

  • National Juvenile Defense Standards
    Winter 2012
    The Standards represent a comprehensive understanding of the role and duties of the juvenile defender in the 21st century juvenile court system, and seek to strengthen and guide the ethical and professional performance of the juvenile defense attorney. The Standards present a national approach to systematizing zealous, competent and diligent defense practice in juvenile court and set out a framework for representation that is anchored in the law, science, and professional codes of responsibility.

    Follow this link to request a hard copy of the Standards, or contact NJDC at 202.452.0010.

  • Ten Core Principles for Providing Quality Delinquency Representation Through Indigent Defense Delivery Systems, 2nd Edition (in collaboration with the National Legal Aid and Defender Associationís American Counsel of Chief Defenders)


  • Issue summary and model legislation (from the Center for Policy Alternatives)
  • NJDC is part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, which aims to reduce the number of children unnecessarily or inappropriately detained; to minimize the number of youth who fail to appear in court or reoffend pending adjudication; to redirect public funds toward successful reform strategies; and to improve conditions of confinement.

Gault at 40 Campaign

  • Forty years ago, in the In re Gault case, the United States Supreme Court declared that all children accused of delinquent acts have the right to counsel in the proceedings against them. Despite this clear mandate, many children appear in court without the benefit of well-trained legal counsel, too many with no counsel at all. NJDC and its partners launched the Gault at 40 Campaign to raise awarness and draw attention to the problems children face in the juvenile indigent defense system and to ensure that all children will be treated with respect, dignity, and fairness. The Campaign conducted a number of activities and events in 2007, such as know your rights nights, symposia, publications, movie screenings and more. For further information, please click here.


  • NJDC coordinates the Girls' Justice Initiative, a national collaboration of organizations and individuals dedicated to promoting equity and justice for girls involved in the juvenile justice and related systems. Through research, public education and advocacy, the Girls' Justice Initiative identifies areas for reform, develops policy recommendations and promotes gender responsive policies and practices so that fewer girls enter the justice system and those in the system receive just treatment which is responsive to their needs and nurtures their strengths. Visit the Girls' Justice Initiative to learn more about the collaboration and about girls' issues.

Juvenile Death Penalty

Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network

  • The Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network is an initiative to promote change that enhances and strengthens juvenile indigent defense systems. The Network, funded through the MacArthur Foundation's Models for Change will respond to the critical need to build the capacity of the juvenile defense bar and to improve access to counsel and quality of representation for youth involved in the justice system. Click here to view the press release and the Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network application.

Law Reform

  • NJDC dedicates a portion of the resources its receives from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the Department of Justice as well as the Gideon Project of the Open Society Institute to convene law reform strategy sessions, working groups and other forums to develop and implement new policy initiatives.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Youth

  • NJDC is partnering with Legal Services for Children and the National Center for Lesbian Rights on a three-year initiative, called the Equity Project, to ensure that LGBTQ youth in the juvenile court system are treated with dignity, respect and fairness. The Equity Project addresses the entire delinquency process, ranging from arrest through adjudication and post-disposition. Core activities of the Equity Project will include collecting information, reporting findings, and disseminating recommendations to juvenile court participants. For more information, please visit www.equityproject.org.

Model Juvenile Justice Systems

  • NJDC is collaborating with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation on a project aimed at creating model juvenile justice systems to replicate throughout the country. Currently focused on Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana and Washington, the model systems are designed to incorporate all aspects of juvenile justice, including defense, probation, detention, corrections, and alternative programming.

Transfer to Adult Court

Waiver of Counsel

  • Issue summary and model legislation (in collaboration with the Center for Policy Alternatives)
  • Testimony of Judge Ernestine Gray before the Louisiana House of Representatives Committee on the Administration of Juvenile Justice regarding Louisiana House Bill 1508

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