As we close out 2014, we would like to briefly highlight a few activities that the Office of the Juvenile Defender (OJD) undertook over the year.
Contracts and Training:
Contracts: We were able to evaluate 11 of the 14 juvenile contracts over the course of 2014. The evaluation process includes court observations as well as brief interviews with the pertinent court actors. We are continuing to participate with IDS on ways to improve interactions with contractors and explore ways to identify future contractors.
Training: We collaborated with the UNC School of Government (SOG) to plan the first Juvenile Advanced Training in March. The training was similar to the Trial School format and feedback indicates that it was well-received. We also worked closely with the SOG to plan the Annual Juvenile Defender Conference that was held in August. Our office presented at several other local and national trainings over the course of the year, including an offering hosted by the Wilmington Public Defender Office that focused on the Sex Offender Specific Evaluation, the National Juvenile Defender Center Summit in October and the 9th Annual Models for Change National Working Conference in December.
As you may recall, in the last session of the General Assembly the House passed HB725 (Raise the Age) but the Senate did not take up the legislation. In order to move the legislation forward, a new bill would need to be proposed during the next legislative session in January 2015. While we do not have any definitive information, we understand that there is some indication that one or more bills may be proposed.
Additionally, we have worked with the North Carolina Bar Association Juvenile Justice and Children’s Rights Section to develop technical changes to the Juvenile Code which will hopefully improve outcomes for our clients.
This year we developed a communication protocol and launched our new website. The site is designed to be more interactive and allows us to disseminate information in real time. We strongly encourage our partners and stakeholders to contribute content, such as blog posts, relevant events or training opportunities, pertinent research, etc. We also continued the quarterly defender call that was introduced last year. The calls are intended to provide an opportunity for delinquency attorneys across the state to connect and discuss issues relevant to the practice.
This year the OJD presented at the Campbell, Charlotte, Elon, University of North Carolina and Wake Forest Schools of Law. We collaborated with Elon to develop a pro bono project in Guilford County, which evolved into an extern program where Elon Law students can specifically work with the juvenile assistant public defenders in the Guilford County Public Defender Office. In September 2014, OJD stepped down as host of the Southern Juvenile Defender Center. We appreciate the opportunity from the National Juvenile Defender Center to connect defenders from seven southeastern states, work on policy issues together, and resurrect the regional summits.
Research indicates that very few eligible juveniles are applying to have their delinquency records expunged. As you know, delinquency records can impact juveniles in a number of ways, and expunging these records can ease access to vocational and educational resources, as well as impact potential future contact with the criminal justice system. However, there is no right to paid counsel, and there are few, if any, pro bono resources for juveniles. To that end, next year we will work to develop an expunction project that would increase community awareness, develop a mechanism for tracking juveniles to clearly quantify the numbers of expunctions, and explore possibilities for low- or no-cost legal assistance for juveniles and their families.
Also, in an effort to encourage up and coming attorneys to commit to delinquency work, we are considering developing a leadership mentor program designed to match experienced and active defenders with new attorneys in hopes of getting them involved with delinquency related issues and the greater delinquency community.
As we look toward the new year, we continue to perform our ongoing functions including: representing juvenile defense on various boards and committees, meeting with other juvenile justice advocates discussing various juvenile issues, responding to the media as requested, consulting with trial court practitioners and appellate counsel, providing training materials to groups and individuals, co-authoring the Juvenile Defender Newsletter with the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, and monitoring the legislature and the appellate courts.