Youth Defense System Standards

A specialized corps of zealous youth defenders can unlock young people’s constitutional rights and wield the power to challenge and dismantle institutionalized oppression. For youth defenders to effectively do this work, states must invest in well-resourced youth defense delivery systems to comply with their constitutional mandates. The National Youth Defense System Standards outline steps states must take to satisfy the minimum requirements of the U.S. Constitution to fully safeguard the rights of youth in the juvenile legal system. 

The System Standards provide a metric to assess a state’s compliance with constitutional mandates that safeguard the rights of young people in the juvenile legal system, with a particular focus on the right to counsel. Youth defenders are uniquely positioned to unlock and enforce the panoply of rights guaranteed to all youth, yet too often, youth defenders face crippling infrastructures that impact their ability to fully satisfy the hallmarks of zealous representation as envisioned by the U.S. Constitution.  

The System Standards call on states to invest in well-resourced youth defense delivery systems to comply with their constitutional obligations to provide every single youth facing liberty deprivations with a qualified and zealous attorney. For more information about state liability, please take a look at Cause of Action: Fulfilling the Promises of Gault.  

The Gault Center believes that building a specialized corps of youth defenders is the key to liberation. Establishing robust youth defense systems will ensure that youth defenders have the right resources to fulfill the constitutional promise of counsel and in so doing, fight for a transformed system under a collective vision of freeing all youth from systemic injustices. 

The System Standards are an integral part of the Gault Center’s Youth Defense System Transformation Initiative

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