If you’ve ever tried to give advice to a teenager, you know the pitfalls. They’re inexperienced, moody and must process often competing messages from peers, parents, teachers and the media. So imagine the difficulties of advocating for a young person involved with the criminal justice system.
That’s the challenge for lawyers representing children in juvenile courts across the country. A new curriculum developed by two national leaders in juvenile justice reform — -the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) and Models for Change — seeks to help defenders with the highly specialized training needed to advocate for children. This week, Memphis continues its role as one of the pilot sites for this training.
“A big part of this is the relationship between counsel and child because you have a child who, on the one hand, is very capable of decision making, who needs to participate in his own representation, but who is also a child,” says Laurie Sansbury, an assistant Shelby County public defender. Sansbury coordinated the Memphis’ latest JTIP training with NJDC and is part of Shelby County’s new Juvenile Defender Unit. “A child can’t necessarily get places on his own, parents have to be involved. It’s not as simple as dealing with a 40 year-old client who lives by himself. But it’s also different because you have an opportunity to intervene earlier and make a change in someone’s life … so they don’t end up as an adult in the criminal justice system.”
The first part of this Juvenile Training Immersion Program (JTIP) was held in December at the Urban Child Institute. Private attorneys and public defenders from Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville gathered in downtown Memphis to learn sections of these new standards from national juvenile defense experts. Participants also were divided into small groups to practice techniques, such as establishing rapport with and interviewing young people.
The trainers leading this week’s session all wrote sections of the new national standards. This week, the 36 attorneys taking part in the Memphis training will learn about adolescent development and standards for handling issues such as detention hearings and probable cause. They have also committed to go through two additional, two-day training sessions — one in March and the final session in August. The goal of JTIP is to localize these standards for each state and train juvenile defenders so that practices will be more consistent across the country.
“One of the things I learned last time when I spoke to people after the December training is that they really feel like they can’t practice the way they want to practice,” says Sansbury. “They know better, they know there is more that they could be doing, and they want to know what that is. The engagement these attorney showed during the first session and the conversation – it was really heated sometimes. People are excited to get this high quality level of training from national experts and they are excited about juvenile defense reform in Shelby County”