In re Gault and the promise of systemic reform

The right to counsel for juveniles in delinquency cases that the Supreme Court declared in In re Gault can be seen as an effort at systemic reform - a purposeful alteration of the structure, procedure, or resources of a law-administering system that aims to better align the system's operation with the principles or ideals on which it is based. Although the Court articulated the benefits of counsel in terms of individual representation, juvenile defenders are increasingly called upon to expand their role to include broader forms of advocacy aimed at reforming juvenile justice system practice and procedure. The predominant stakeholder collaboration model of systemic reform may seem counter to adversarial defense advocacy in individual representation. However, I argue that the stakeholder model is actually more strategic than it is made to appear. Hence, it provides opportunities for defense advocacy at the systemic level, using three primary approaches: (1) understanding the system from the perspective of the client, (2) analyzing the status quo as an accommodation of competing interests, and (3) listening for the narratives of system officials that legitimate their behavior and place blame for systemic problems elsewhere. Rather than being incongruent with individual advocacy, I use examples from the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) to illustrate that these building blocks of systemic reform are extensions of the same advocacy tools that defenders already employ in their representation of individual clients.
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