PA: An Assessment of Access to Counsel and Quality of Representation in Delinquency Proceedings

Laval S. Miller-Wilson, with the assistance of Patricia Puritz, Director of American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center,

This report is an assessment of children’s access to counsel and the quality of representation they receive in Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system. The report’s findings are based on an 18-month assessment, including responses to a 70-question written survey and site visits to juvenile courts across the state. Pennsylvania practices were measured against those required by the IJA/ABA Juvenile Justice Standards.

With overwhelming caseloads, little access to investigators, and limited time for preparation, Pennsylvania juvenile public defenders are failing the poor children they are expected to defend. According to this report, the quality and effectiveness of legal representation for indigent youth in Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system varies dramatically from county to county. The report’s conclusion: youth are better or worse off, depending on where they live.