Access to competent legal help for poor children in Illinois juvenile courts is compromised by an overburdened system that relies too heavily on plea bargaining and does not allow adequate time for consultation with attorneys, says new study reported by the Chicago Tribune. The lack of time, support. and resources that Illinois juvenile defenders have is undermining their ability to represent indigent children effectively, say the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University and the National Juvenile Defender Center. “There are a range of issues and it has a tremendous, long-term impact on a child and their family. Juvenile Court is not kiddie court. It does not all go away anymore,” said Patricia Puritz of the defender center, co-author of the report. “All that child really has is their attorney.”
The report discusses barriers Illinois children face in receiving proper representation. Among them: More than 70 percent of all juvenile cases in Illinois are resolved by plea bargains — many of those are entered at the child’s first court appearance — offering little opportunity for public defenders and others who defend the children to investigate or confer with the clients about the case. The over-reliance on plea bargaining makes it more likely juveniles would be convicted of a crime they did not commit or convicted of a harsher charge than they deserved, the report states. Sttorneys for children are usually appointed at the child’s first court appearance — in some cases after — meaning there is no communication between the child and his or her lawyer prior to going before the judge. .