Another year gone, some great milestones achieved, and the Office of the Juvenile Defender (OJD) would like to highlight a few of those accomplishments from 2017:
This was a monumental year for juvenile justice legislation as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of In re Gault and the passage of Raise the Age in N.C.
Raise the Age: In regards to raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction, OJD met with advocates and stakeholders to develop strategies for bill passage and worked with the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) Legal Counsel to draft, edit, and respond to amendments to the legislation. OJD responded to legislators and staff with questions about the legislation and we have developed a three-part plan to address the needs of defender services to absorb the increased number of cases.
Gault: The Supreme Court’s decision in Gault granted due process rights to children, which essentially created the occupation of juvenile defenders, and due to the new legislation passed in our state, North Carolina will not be the last state to automatically treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. OJD collaborated with the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) and AOC to commemorate the fifty years since the Gault decision.
As part of our campaign to raise awareness about Gault, OJD worked with NJDC to create a webpage specifically for events in N.C. related to the celebration and to bring attention to N.C.’s commitment to fulfilling the promise of Gault. On our own website and the UNC School of Government’s blog, in collaboration with LaToya Powell, OJD co-wrote a series of blogs on the legal impact of Gault on North Carolina law. We also attempted to rally juvenile justice advocates to petition Google to create a Gault-inspired Doodle for May 15, the official anniversary of the decades-old decision, and encouraged other community leaders to solicit the media with op-eds and offer presentations of their own, such as the Council for Children’s Rights. We also worked with the Governor’s Office to create a gubernatorial proclamation. On the day of the anniversary, we launched our first Twitter Town Hall event with the hashtag #Gault50NC and we attended a gala in honor of the occasion hosted by NJDC in Washington, D.C.
With the assistance of AOC, we also created a video discussing the impact of Gault and the need for Raise the Age legislation in N.C.
Contracts & Trainings
Contracts: There were no new contracts established in 2017, however with the passage of Raise the Age, OJD plans to evaluate current contracts and observe court in all districts to determine where new contracts will be needed once the law is fully implemented. Assistant Juvenile Defender Kim Howes has also met with contractors in different districts to address issues, brainstorm, etc.
Trainings: This year, OJD was proud to have held several successful trainings in various districts including Districts 7, 19, 8, and 1. We had the pleasure of collaborating with the N.C. Advocates for Justice, UNC School of Government, and others once again to bring together new and veteran juvenile defenders in different lectures and interactive training activities across the state.
OJD continues to provide direct representation of juvenile clients. This has allowed our Office to observe and respond to trends in juvenile court as well as continue to have a presence in the courtroom. OJD has represented juveniles in cases transferred from other districts and been able to identify issues for appeal and base trainings on issues that have arisen in multiple cases in various districts such as proper amendments to charges on petitions and improper dispositional levels. Collaboration with defenders in other jurisdictions when we have juvenile clients in common has resulted in better outcomes for juveniles with petitions in multiple districts.
This year we’ve tried to bring new life to the OJD website, encouraging more guest blogs, getting our own domain, and exploring new avenues to engage the juvenile defender community through social media. Since last year, OJD has seen the subscriptions on our blog more than double from the 190 we initially had prior to Marcus Thompson coming on board in our new communications and office manager position. We have also had significant growth in our audience on social media, which has been very useful in raising awareness of what our office and the North Carolina juvenile defense community aspires to do and has accomplished. With assistance from the media team at AOC, OJD has developed a podcast, which we hope to continue to produce in order to keep all stakeholders informed. An OJD Facebook page has also been created in order to keep stakeholders engaged and facilitate conversation about current events related to juvenile defense around the country.
With the implementation of Raise the Age underway, OJD has developed a three-part plan to address the needs of defenders to absorb the increased number of cases. This includes (1) developing statewide and local conferences, trainings, and presentations to keep defenders informed, (2) proposing a system of dedicated defenders through contracting with local defenders, and (3) consulting with public defender offices and contractors to determine the impact of potential increase in caseload. Our office has also created a page on the OJD website with resources specifically related to Raise the Age, including summaries of the legislation and a compilation of articles, and we will update this page as more materials become available. Additionally, OJD has been appointed to or assisted committees in response to the new legislation including the Governor’s Crime Commission, AOC JWise Attorney Access workgroup, and the new Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee created by the new law.