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Ohio defenders may accelerate JDAI efforts

Since becoming a JDAI site in 2010, Ohio reformers have been looking for ways to encourage the juvenile defense bar to engage in all aspects of JDAI planning in order to accelerate and deepen results.

“Ensuring that public defenders have a seat at the JDAI table is core to detention reform,” said Beth Oprish, Ohio JDAI state coordinator. “In Ohio we have found that defenders, often isolated by their adversarial role, are eager to have a voice in the initiative.”

With technical assistance from the National Juvenile Defender Center and Children's Law Center, a study was commissioned to identify strategies to improve juvenile representation in the detention reform process.

A survey team from the Children’s Law Center visited the state’s five JDAI sites – Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas, Montgomery, and Summit counties – from Nov. 3, 2010, to Jan. 27, 2011. The team observed detention hearings and interviewed juvenile defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and detention and probation staff.

"We found that large numbers of youth are going unrepresented at all stages in Ohio,” said Angela Chang, a staff attorney with the Children’s Law Center.

Timely access to counsel and ensuring that youth are not waiving counsel can help reduce unnecessary delays in case processing, ensure fidelity to objective admissions screening and promote use of alternatives to detention.

Defenders also have an ethical duty to advocate for the expressed interest of youth, and they are essential to collecting evidence supporting detention alternatives and ensuring that youth understand proceedings and their rights.

“In our follow-up discussions with the JDAI sites, we found that everyone agreed that if youth have legal representation available to them at the detention hearing, they are more likely to be released,” said Chang.

The study led to a list of recommendations to reduce Ohio’s reliance on incarceration and improve the overall quality of its juvenile representation:

  • Ensure that an attorney is present for all youth at detention hearings.
  • Discourage youth from waiving counsel without a meaningful consultation with an attorney.
  • Ensure that detained youth have reasonable access to attorneys and that attorney contact information is readily available.
  • Encourage defenders to request copies of intake and risk-assessment information to prepare for detention hearings.
  • Appoint the chief juvenile public defender to the JDAI committees responsible for case processing and risk assessment.

As a result of this initiative, Montgomery County public defenders began appearing regularly at detention hearings. “I had a child today thank me for seeing him so quickly after his arrest. He said that ‘knowing that someone will be there for me reduces my stress,’" said Kay Locke, juvenile chief of the Montgomery County Public Defender's Office.

“These assessments have helped all of us participating in JDAI to better understand that by intentionally engaging and including the defense in the reform process, we can reduce the number of youth in detention,” said Chang.

For more information contact Beth Oprisch at Beth.Oprisch@dys.ohio.gov.


Ohio reformers. Back row (left to right): Yeura Venters, director, Franklin County Public Defender's Office; Beth Oprisch, Ohio JDAI state coordinator; and the Honorable Kim Browne, Franklin County Juvenile Court. Front row (left to right): Angela Chang, staff attorney, Children's Law Center; Doug Shoemaker, magistrate, Franklin County; and Suhba Lembach, Franklin County JDAI coordinator.