Report Reveals that Juvenile Defense in Illinois Well Below National Standards

October 31, 2007


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Download complete report (pdf) or executive summary (pdf).


The Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC) in collaboration with the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) released the Illinois Assessment of Access to Counsel and Quality of Representation in Delinquency Proceedings. A comprehensive examination of Illinois’ juvenile indigent defense system, the report that concludes that representation of juveniles in Illinois falls well short of national standards.

The report includes findings and recommendations intended to stimulate discussion about the strengths and deficiencies in Illinois’ juvenile indigent defense system. The lack of communication between a child and a lawyer prior to stepping before a judge and the harmful effects that has on meaningful advocacy are among findings showing that the juvenile court system in Illinois is not living up to its obligation to effectively defend indigent children.

Funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and produced by the Illinois Juvenile Defense Assessment Project, the comprehensive assessment of 16 representative counties in Illinois was undertaken by a diverse range of professionals, including defense attorneys, prosecutors, probation officers, judges, law school professors and researchers.

The report was written by the Children and Family Justice Center's Cathryn Crawford, Bernardine Dohrn, CFJC director, and Marjorie Moss; Thomas Geraghty, director of Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern; and Patricia Puritz, National Juvenile Defender Center.

The assessment is an integral part of a larger juvenile justice initiative in Illinois that is working to reduce ethnic and racial disparities in the system, to increase community-based services for youth and to ensure that young people are under juvenile court jurisdiction when appropriate.

The NJDC has conducted similar assessments in 15 other states, and the new report shows that youth and the attorneys representing them in Illinois operate in a system plagued with many of the deficiencies identified in other states.

Many devoted and talented attorneys are attempting to provide competent representation to their clients, but there is disparity in access to and quality of counsel across the state, the report concludes. Many attorneys in the juvenile system are overwhelmed and lack the training, skills, time and resources to represent children effectively, according to the findings.

The assessment team watched court proceedings; met with judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, parents and children; gathered statewide statistics; and examined issues such as how often attorneys meet with clients and plead cases.

The Children and Family Justice Center is part of Northwestern University School of Law's Bluhm Legal Clinic, a leader in criminal justice reform.

The Illinois Defender Assessment Project, funded by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, is part of Models for Change: Systems Reform in Juvenile Justice, an effort to create successful and replicable models of juvenile justice reform through targeted investments in key states. Underway in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Washington, the initiative seeks to accelerate movement toward a more efficient, fair and developmentally sound juvenile justice system which holds young people accountable for their actions, provides for their rehabilitation, protects them from harm, increases their life chances and manages the risk they pose to themselves and the public.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is a private, independent grantmaking institution helping to build a more just and sustainable world. Through the support it provides, the foundation fosters the development of knowledge, nurtures individual creativity, strengthens institutions, helps improve public policy and provides information to the public, primarily through support for public interest media. With assets of more than $6.4 billion, the foundation makes approximately $260 million in grants annually. More information is available at

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