Skip to content

WASHINGTON, DC — The National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) today released Advancing Youth Justice: An Assessment of Access to and Quality of Juvenile Defense Counsel in Oregon.

The assessment found that while Oregon’s public defense system has adopted minimum qualifications and best practices for attorneys representing young people in delinquency cases, an absence of meaningful oversight and enforcement has left some youth defenseless in juvenile court. Some of the key findings and recommendations relate to youth being unrepresented during interrogation, minimal advocacy to address racial disparities, infrequent challenges to assessment of fees and costs, and minimal access to counsel after disposition.

“While Oregon has many elements of an effective public defense system in place, we found that too often, the strength of representation a young person receives depends upon where they live in the state,” said NJDC Executive Director Mary Ann Scali. “We met with many dedicated advocates and leaders who agree the juvenile defense system should provide training and support to ensure defenders meet with their youth clients as early as possible, advance racial justice, and remain involved in post- disposition advocacy to address issues like the assessment of debilitating fees and costs.”

In Oregon, Black youth are more than 2.5 times and Native youth are more than 1.5 times more likely to be referred to the Juvenile Department that white youth; Native youth are held in secure detention at nearly twice the rate of white youth; Black and Native youth are more than 2.5 times more likely to be sentenced to secure correctional facilities than white youth; and Black youth are 4.5 times and Hispanic youth are 2.5 times more likely to be transferred to adult court than white youth. NJDC’s report highlights the racial disparities that exist at every decision point in the juvenile court process and calls for juvenile defenders and all juvenile court stakeholders to fight against systematic disparate treatment of youth of color.

“I agree with the findings in this report that we need to continue to take steps to ensure justice for children,” said Oregon Chief Justice Martha Walters. “The Judicial Branch’s two-year Strategic Campaign, issued in January 2020, includes a commitment to address many of the concerns noted in the report, and we intend to work with the legislature to accomplish our mutual goals. If we are fair and consistent in how we treat children, we will be better able to set them on the right course early in their lives, and we will improve their chances of becoming responsible and productive participants in their communities when they become adults.”

The assessment found that Oregon is one of just eight states that has no uniform, comprehensive guidance for procedure in delinquency proceedings. The report recommends establishing uniform mandates for court procedure to reduce the risk of geographic inequities in justice that thrive when local policies and court procedure vary from county to county.

“She who controls procedure controls justice,” noted Oregon Court of Appeals Chief Judge James C. Egan. “Statewide juvenile court procedures could help address deficiencies in post-disposition representation.”

The report addresses a range of barriers to due process and includes recommendations for actions that state and local leaders can take to improve the quality of juvenile defense.

“The Office of Public Defense Services (OPDS) is grateful for NJDC’s in-depth assessment of Oregon’s juvenile defense system and a detailed roadmap for how we can improve meaningful access to counsel for all Oregonian youth,” said Keren Farkas, Manager of the Office of Public Defense Services’ Parent- Child Representation Program. “We look forward to using this report to guide our work with partners and legislators to build and fund a system that centers compassion, empathy, and an understanding of the distinct needs of young people and the impact legal system involvement has on youth development.”

NJDC’s assessments, part of a nationwide effort to strengthen juvenile defense advocacy, are comprehensive examinations of the systemic and institutional components necessary to ensure young people have high-quality legal representation. Assessment findings are based upon interviews, court observations, and research by a team of experts who analyzed Oregon’s juvenile defense systems and delinquency courts over the period of a year.

The Oregon report is the 27th state assessment NJDC has released. One additional state assessment is underway and scheduled for release in upcoming months. All of NJDC’s state assessments can be found online.

For more information, please contact:
Mary Ann Scali, Executive Director mscali@njdc.info; 202-452-0010 ext. 102

*The racial disparities data cited in this release can be found the Oregon Youth Development Council policy brief, “Juvenile Justice: Equity Considerations,” available at: http://www.oregonyouthdevelopmentcouncil.org/wp- content/uploads/2016/09/Juvenile-Justice_Equity-Considerations-Venngage-Policy-Brief.pdf

###

The National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting justice for all children by ensuring excellence in juvenile defense. Through community building, training, and policy reform, we provide national leadership on juvenile defense issues with a focus on curbing the deprivation of young people’s rights in the court system.