Some Ohio JDAI reformers have ensured that all detained youth in their counties are represented by counsel through work with their local stakeholders and recommendations from the Ohio JDAI Indigent Defense Project.
The Summit County JDAI site began its first-ever detention advocacy program on Oct. 3, 2011, nearly a year after the Children’s Law Center began studying ways to improve representation in the detention process at five JDAI sites—Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas, Montgomery, and Summit counties.
Franklin and Montgomery counties have also taken steps to ensure that all youth are represented at detention hearings.
"We looked at it as a case processing issue—not from the standpoint of speeding things along but from fairness in the process," said Steve Stahl, Summit County JDAI coordinator.
Summit County’s Legal Defender’s Office, in cooperation with the University of Akron School of Law, chose law students to participate in its advocacy program. It also hired an attorney, Amanda Spies, to handle detention hearings.
Law students conduct interviews with all newly detained youth at the detention center. The gathered information is then relayed to Spies, who meets with the youth prior to representing them at the detention hearing.
Spies, who has practiced as an attorney for 22 years, has found her representation extremely helpful to youth. "They really have no idea of how this process works, and usually they have a lot of questions," she said.
Summit County’s detention advocacy program is an excellent example of how JDAI collaboration can improve a youth’s experience with the juvenile justice system. This issue was addressed through Summit County’s Case Processing Committee, Stahl said.
"The entire committee was very open to the idea, and some of the starting funds came from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which was very helpful," he said.
Data are still being collected, but Stahl is convinced that ensuring youth are represented from the beginning is making the process smoother.
Juvenile prosecutors will also begin attending hearings, which is expected to further expedite case processing. Joseph Kodish, the head of the Legal Defender’s Office, described the development of the program as a relatively seamless process.
"Magistrates have found that having an attorney present at the detention hearings is a load off their shoulders and helps things move along," he said. "We’ve been able to dispose of some cases on the spot."
Summit County Juvenile Court Judge Linda Teodosio likewise says the program has benefited both youth and the court. It has ensured youths’ rights are understood and protected, and provided judges with information they find useful in deciding whether to releases detained youth, she said.
"This allows the court to make informed decisions regarding release and to determine which detention alternative can be best utilized to protect public safety," Teodosio said.
Court intake staff have also found the program helpful. They say the program relieves them of the burden of educating youth about the system and allows them to focus on whether to release or hold the youth.
"Judge Teodosio has always been a champion of providing best practices to youth, and Steve Stahl has been a leader since JDAI began in Ohio," said Beth Oprisch, Ohio JDAI state coordinator. "So this success is no surprise to me."
For more information, contact Beth Oprisch.