Delaware, through its Criminal Justice Council, was one of several states to receive the Smart on Juvenile Justice – Enhancing Youth Access to Justice State Reform Planning and Implementation Grants. The grants are funded by the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. This award was the first time that funding has been solely devoted to juvenile defense reform signifying a formal recognition by the federal government that all children are entitled to access to counsel and due process.
This award, totaling nearly $1 million, has been dedicated to improving juvenile defense practices and increasing access to justice for Delaware’s most at-risk youth. The grant allowed Delaware’s Office of Defense Services (ODS) to retain four juvenile defenders. The defenders represent youth facing adjudication, analyze and develop policies and best practices, and conduct post-disposition efforts. The goal is to create a “model juvenile defense system” that will ensure long term, sustainable systemic change. ODS’ request to sustain these positions after the expiration of the grant in September 2019 is supported by the Governor’s Office in its recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2020.
Delaware’s key juvenile justice stakeholders, non-profits and private attorneys were invited to join the Smart on Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee (SJJAC), chaired by the Office of Defense Services, in order to achieve the grant goals. Through these grants and with the assistance of the SJJAC, Delaware was able to achieve significant positive change in both its juvenile justice policy and its juvenile defense practice. Most notably, since receipt of the grants, stakeholders across the state have advocated for meaningful reform to the Delaware’s juvenile expungement laws. The same partners, led by ODS, then collaborated to host 18 juvenile expungement clinics across Delaware, resulting in nearly 250 expungements to date. This work is significant, as previously ODS did not have defenders dedicated to post disposition matters. Through this work, strategic partnerships have been developed with law school clinics, the state bar association, and private law firms.
Additionally, there have been multiple stakeholder trainings held across the state to better educate decision makers regarding the best policies and practices for youth. ODS also instituted regular Juvenile Training Immersion Program (JTIP) trainings to inform juvenile defenders on the unique nature of representing adolescents.
Finally, the National Juvenile Defender Center (“NJDC”) conducted an assessment of juvenile defense and juvenile justice in Delaware. Recommendations from the assessment became part of SJJAC’s overall strategic plan and assisted in shaping the reforms. NJDC provided continuing technical assistance under the grants to Delaware and, ODS, in particularly.
The impact of this work will be long lasting, continuing into 2019 and beyond.
Additional information on this effort is detailed in With Liberty and Justice for All … Ensuring Access to Counsel for Children.