WASHINGTON (Oct. 14, 2020)—Juvenile public defenders across the United States are overworked and under paid. However, policymakers can improve the currently flawed system in ways that will benefit both public defenders and the justice-involved youth they represent.

In a new policy study, R Street manager of criminal justice and civil liberties Jesse Kelley discusses what changes should and should not be implemented to help alleviate juvenile defenders’ caseloads.

“Currently, about 70 percent of youth housed in detention facilities are there for non-violent offenses. Providing options other than arrest can keep young people record-free and reduce juvenile public defender caseloads,” said Kelley.

Additional advocacy training for juvenile public defenders and pre-arrest diversion programs are two key opportunities that will benefit both juveniles and public defenders. These tools will allow public defenders to give more attention to each individual case and reduce the number of incarcerated young people, which is particularly important at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the additional challenges it has created for juvenile public defenders and their clients.

You can read the full policy paper, “A Child’s Right to Counsel: Juvenile Public Defenders,” here.