Target: Attorney General Eric Holder
Goal: Guarantee that children have access to legal counsel in juvenile courts
There is a disturbing trend in our juvenile court system of bullying children and their parents to waive the right to legal counsel. The right to legal counsel is an integral piece of our justice system, which guarantees that people accused of crimes are not unjustly taken advantage of by those who know how to navigate the law.
A study by the Attorney General’s office identified that many jurisdictions across the country “allow 80–90 percent of youth who are charged with offenses to appear without counsel.” This is a serious problem because in many cases children are offered plea bargains and relent, even if innocent. This can not only can put a permanent stain on a child’s record, but also lead to much worse consequences like sex offender registry, long term incarceration or deportation.
In areas all across the country, children are brought into courtrooms, often in jumpsuits and shackles, to face prosecutors and judges without anyone looking out for their legal rights. Several nonprofit groups have championed the cause of standing up for these children’s legal rights. The group include KIND (Kids in need of Defense), CJDC (The Colorado Juvenile Defense Coalition), CAI (Children’s Advocacy Institute) and Youth, Rights and Justice. Recently Colorado had an important victory; through the CJDC’s work, a bill was passed that guaranteed children have adequate counsel in court. The problem is that most of these efforts are either localized or specialized, and if we are to protect the rights of all youth than action needs to be taken on a federal level.
That is why it is imperative that we call on Attorney General Eric Holder to review this disturbing trend and take federal action to correct it. Please let the Attorney General’s office know that the practice of allowing our children to go unrepresented must end.
Dear Attorney General Holder,
In your offices report on Children Exposed to Violence in 2012, you identified several key components of the juvenile court system that need addressing. In the chapter entitled “Rethinking Our Juvenile Justice System,” you found that large portions of youth populations are going through the gauntlet of our court systems with no legal representation whatsoever.
Your report reaches the conclusion that even when these children are found guilty, their legal representation is often their best protection during sentencing. In cases where these children are put into the care of the state, it is paramount that they be protected in all respects.
That is why we are calling on your office to ensue that children are accurately represented in the juvenile justice system across the country. We cannot allow our children to be taken advantage of, and as the Attorney General you have the power to guarantee that our courts are fair to those youth that pass through the juvenile justice system.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall via Flickr.