A Tale of Two Systems: An Assessment of Access to & Quality of Youth Defense Counsel in Utah

The Utah assessment is the 29th statewide assessment of youth defense delivery systems the Gault Center has conducted. These assessments gather information and data about the structure and funding of defense systems and examine whether youth receive counsel at all critical stages, the timing of appointments, waiver of counsel, youth defense resource allocation, supervision and training, and access to investigators, experts, social workers, and support staff. Reports note promising practices within a state and offer recommendations for improvements.

Some of the key findings of the assessment include:

  • Utah has recently enacted several legislative reforms that have greatly improved youth access to counsel throughout the juvenile court process.
  • Utah’s Indigent Defense Commission is beginning to build a foundation for the state’s youth defense delivery system by establishing standards, contracting with managing defenders, and supporting appellate practice.
  • Despite the state’s recent reforms, Utah’s county-based contract system for youth defense continues to limit access to justice for young people.
  • Outside of Salt Lake County, youth defense contracts are too often influenced by county prosecutors, do not provide adequate compensation, and do not allow for specialization.
  • Youth defenders across Utah are in need of training in case investigation, motions practice, expressed-interest advocacy, trial advocacy skills, and post-disposition advocacy, as well as
    adolescent development and racial disparities.

Among other recommendations, this report encourages Utah to:

  • Establish a strong statewide system for delivery of youth defense services.
  • Ensure the independence of youth defenders.
  • Institute pay structures that compensate youth defenders for the time and work needed to provide competent representation.
  • Require initial and ongoing training for all youth defenders and managing defenders.
  • Establish systems for youth to access counsel at the earliest points of legal system contact.
  • Commit to combatting racial disparities.
  • Eliminate all fees and costs imposed by the juvenile legal system, particularly costs-of-care charged to families.
File Type: pdf
Categories: Assessment, Gault Center Publications, Resource Library
Tags: Access to Counsel, Quality of Representation, Right to Counsel, Specialization, Youth Defense Systems