The following reflective piece was contributed by Assistant Shelby County Public Defender Laurie Sansbury.
The weekend of October 13, I was lucky to represent the Shelby County Public Defender at the 2013 Juvenile Defense Conference held at the University of Colorado-Boulder Law School and sponsored by the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition.
There were over 100 attendees at the conference, many from Colorado, but also from New York, Washington, and many other communities. The conference featured several national speakers and addressed a wide array of juvenile defense topics.
Patricia Puritz from the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) was one of the first speakers, opening with, “It’s tough enough to be a teenager. Our current juvenile defense system isn’t helping.”
She then spoke about the new NJDC national juvenile defense standards and the ways defenders can use these standards as a shield to protect their clients, urging us to “stand up, don’t stand by.” Marsha Levick from the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, PA also spoke about the need to bring back zealous and creative advocacy to our communities and to further the message of In re Gault that “kids are different.”
Several sessions highlighted the new Human Rights Watch report, “Raised on the Registry,” spearheaded by Nicole Pittman; the report details the troubling issues facing children forced to register as sex offenders for offenses committed at young ages.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation loaned photos from Richard Ross’ collection Juvenile In Justice for display during the conference. These haunting photos give faces and a sense of place to the children incarcerated in detention facilities across the United States.
The conference also screened the upcoming film “Kids for Cash,” based on the scandal in Luzerne County, PA, in 2008. The panel discussion included Kim Dvorchak from the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition, film producer Robert May, and Marsha Levick from the Juvenile Law Center, who was deeply involved in the Luzerne County litigation.
The conference was a wonderful opportunity to better understand how the important developments surrounding indigent juvenile defense in Shelby County fit into a larger national movement. The conference allowed me to learn more about juvenile practice, to connect with other juvenile defenders, and to see how powerful this movement could become.