Who We Are

The Pacific Juvenile Defender Center (PJDC) is a non-profit public interest organization that promotes justice for all youth by ensuring excellence in juvenile defense and advocating for systemic reforms. Through specialized training programs, educational support, and policy reform work, we provide leadership on juvenile justice issues in the state of California with a holistically-focused approach to juvenile defense that takes into account the unique legal, educational, emotional and psychological needs, and inherent potential of youth.

PJDC operates almost entirely through the contributions of volunteer attorneys who are committed and passionate about this work. As the only statewide organization in California entirely dedicated to juvenile delinquency defense, PJDC is the “go to” organization for attorneys seeking training, practice materials, litigation support, and assistance with youth policy development.

By organizing and delivering trainings for juvenile trial lawyers, appellate counsel, law school clinical programs, and non-profit law centers, PJDC equips lawyers to protect young people’s legal rights. PJDC’s specialized trainings in juvenile law, adolescent development, reducing disparate treatment of youth, educational advocacy, trauma and mental health issues help attorneys advocate for more just outcomes for the youth they represent.

Over the last decade, PJDC Amicus Committee members have participated in many appellate court challenges — working with lawyers to develop arguments and case strategy, and submitting amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs. Our amicus briefs raise awareness of the complicated legal and policy concerns affecting system-involved youth and have been repeatedly cited by the California Supreme Court.

Further, PJDC has been a part of many initiatives and efforts to help to shape legislation and policy. Our guiding principles have called for: (1) reforming the youth justice system to ensure dignity, fairness, and age-appropriate treatment for system-involved youth and (2) for elevating the status of juvenile defense as a specialized practice. Our members are recognized and actively sought out by policymakers at the state and local levels for their insights about the law and what changes would be helpful for youth or would improve the youth justice system.

PJDC was founded in 1999 as a regional center of the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) and incorporated as a non-profit in 2010. Throughout the years, PJDC Board members have maintained close contact with NJDC and have played an important role in developing national juvenile defender policies and resources. PJDC Board members helped NJDC to develop the first-ever national standards for juvenile defense as well as a critically acclaimed specialized training program for juvenile defense.

“If properly seen, mentored, assisted, guided, and initiated, young people have immense capacities for change and transcendence.”

— Luis Rodriguez, activist and award-winning writer of fiction, nonfiction, literature and poetry as well as the memoir Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.; formerly incarcerated as a youth

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