EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Lack of adequately trained juvenile defenders is one reason why Illinois children accused of crimes do not receive satisfactory legal defense and often plead guilty before a defense can be made, according to a statewide report released Wednesday.
The Illinois Juvenile Defense Assessment Project says a lack of defense attorneys adequately trained in juvenile law, lack of financial resources – whether it is the parent’s ability to hire a lawyer or limited public defender budgets – and inattentive courts are sources of the problem.
In some cases defenders aren’t assigned until moments before the child’s first court appearance, sometimes even after the appearance. The study claims that as a result, more youths are incarcerated, increasing their chances of becoming repeat offenders as adults.
The report’s authors believe excessive plea deals compromise the judicial process. The report claims more than 70 percent of juvenile cases are decided by plea deals.
The report makes several suggestions, some simple and others complex, including not using shackles in the courtroom, using language that children understand, a stronger defense bar, better pay and training for defenders and more funding for experts and investigators.
The report was based on interviews of judges, prosecutors, defenders, clerks, probation officers and juvenile defendants. It was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.