Youth Justice Reform

Keys to effective youth justice reform

Core values

Public education

Appellate advocacy (discussed in the Amicus section)

Policy advocacy

Problem solving


While assuring quality legal representation is a core part of PJDC’s mission, our experience with representing young people has provided us a concrete understanding of how the system needs improvement. PJDC brings its unparalleled experience and fierce commitment to the rights of youth to many settings. PJDC members across the state regularly join with other policy specialists and advocates to fight at the state and local levels for more effective and just treatment of youth. Policymakers, public officials, community members, advocacy organizations, and the media regularly ask PJDC to weigh in on issues pertaining to youth in the delinquency system and improving juvenile justice in California.

PJDC has been consulted on a wide range of transformative juvenile law measures including:

  • abolishing a prosecutor’s ability to directly file cases of youth under 18 in adult court and mandating that juvenile judges make that determination
  • incorporating adolescent development principles into the transfer criteria judges use in making transfer decisions
  • ensuring that youth under 16 consult with counsel before waiving their Miranda rights
  • promoting felony murder reform
  • providing parole hearings for youth who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole
  • establishing the duties of juvenile counsel, including mandatory training requirements for lawyers in delinquency cases
  • eliminating incarceration as a punishment for violation of court orders for youth in truancy cases
  • creating a juvenile competency statute that incorporates developmental immaturity
  • advocating for changes to the record sealing laws so youth have less barriers to successful re-entry

PJDC also provides public education and engages with other system stakeholders to change practices, improve systems, and advance a new vision of youth justice. Here are just some of the ways PJDC has encouraged policy reform:

  • educating judges and probation officers about conditions in state facilities and legislative mechanisms they can use to bring youth home if adequate services are not provided
  • consulting with the executive branch about the impact of proposed reforms or system practices on youth
  • making the case for elimination of fines and fees that hamper rather than help youth and families in rehabilitative efforts
  • educating the public on the profound racial bias involved in determining which youth should be prosecuted as adults
  • raising awareness of the collateral consequences of juvenile court involvement
  • training judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement on barriers to re-entry and the negative effects on youth and recidivism
  • assisting the Legislative Analyst’s Office to understand the long-term financial consequences that local counties incur when they incarcerate youth in the adult system
  • engaging with the state-wide corrections board to improve conditions for incarcerated youth
  • urging indigent defender offices to establish career and promotion tracks for juvenile defenders
  • speaking at local boards of supervisors to educate them about the importance of social workers and holistic representation of youth

By sharing its vision in a variety of ways with other stakeholders on how to improve the system, PJDC has been a leader in youth justice reform.

What others are saying about PJDC

I would not have achieved the success I did without the support of PJDC. They were invaluable. I relied heavily on the materials they produced to help structure my arguments, understand the changes in the law, and prepare my memorandum of law...PJDC has helped me become a better advocate.

-J.P., Alameda

PJDC is indispensable in my juvenile public defender practice: practical juvenile focused training (and regional training!), great web resources and briefs, and prompt help for specific problem-solving with other members on the listserv. Everyone involved is friendly and generous with their time, energy and passion for defending the needs and special concerns of our youth. PJDC is a terrific one-stop resource that every attorney, who work with youth, should have in their corner.

-B.H., Butte

All of the recent changes to the way our system treats juveniles are wonderful, but can be daunting to navigate. When I turn to PJDC with questions, I am confident that I am getting accurate and up-to-date answers that allow me to represent my juvenile clients more effectively.

-L.S., Orange

I can attest without a doubt that PJDC is an invaluable resource, rich with information, and whose members readily assist practitioners at the drop of a hat. We recently filed a writ of mandate, followed by a petition for review on an important issue of first impression involving transfer hearings and could not be happier with the assistance we received from PJDC's topic experts up and down the state. If you regularly practice juvenile law, as we do, I cannot fathom how one would feel subject-matter competent without PJDC's resources.

-T.P., El Dorado

I have found the community of dedicated juvenile defenders who are active on PJDC’s listserv to be knowledgeable, thoughtful, and incredibly helpful on a variety of issues ranging from technical to practical. In several instances, fellow PJDC members have made themselves available by phone to discuss case strategy and suggest further resources.

-D.M., Humboldt

The PJDC listserv, resources, and trainings have a HUGE impact on my practice. Attorneys across the state give me case-specific advice, encouragement, and resources to fight for my clients. I am so grateful for the education -- and especially the collaboration -- statewide. PJDC helps us rural lawyers stay connected, which helps our youth be successful. Thank you!

-D.G., Tuolomne

In a state with a complicated, convoluted, ever-changing Juvenile Justice system, PJDC helps me find the answers I need to help my clients.

-N.S., Kings

PJDC gives great juvenile training seminars!

-B. P., Sonoma

Email to PJDC Transfer Team: “… I have been practicing law nearly 40 years and I am rarely impressed by briefs. YOUR WORK IS SPECTACULAR. I am so impressed with what must have been a great deal of effort, legal research, and thought. Your work is stellar. Thank you so much helping all of us and of course, our client.

-L.H., Los Angeles

The Independent Juvenile Program makes extensive use of the wide array of resources and expertise provided by PJDC. Our panel lawyers and staff find it to be an invaluable source for the latest ideas and thinking in juvenile defense.

-M.S., Los Angeles

I prevailed in 2 hearings… because of PJDC. Your training, seminars and research bank helped me determine the strengths and focus in each case. I was also able to secure experts identified through PJDC. The template briefs and research are extremely helpful, as is the regular input on current issues through the PJDC blog. Your help and moral support is invaluable. Keep up the good fight!

-R.W., Kern

As private defense counsel practicing in several different counties, I rely on the PJDC to assist in consultation, strategy, and expert witness referral for the complex litigations my law firm provides to minors across Southern California. Everyone is very courteous, professional and helpful in their respective areas of expertise. A first-rate organization with a true compassion to help kids.

-E.Y., San Bernardino

PJDC goes a long way in helping good juvenile defense attorneys become great juvenile defense attorneys!

-E. P., Madera

PJDC is THE go to source for anyone practicing juvenile law in California. Member resources and the generously shared wisdom of expert and fellow practitioners make PJDC an indispensable asset for California lawyers.

-M.P., Los Angeles

I have to give a shout out to…all of you for the incredibly thoughtful, proactive and outstanding support you service to our most justice-challenged youth. You are advancing best practices, advancing training at a lightning pace and maximizing the chances for justice and decency to prevail. I salute you all…[T]his communication modality should be replicated in every state. Keep your fire ablaze!

-P.F., Los Angeles

PJDC is my go to resource for legal updates in a complex and rapidly changing area of the law. On behalf of the children I represent, we thank you for the great results that we are able to achieve using the knowledge gained from your organization, and the laws that you've helped create.

-D. M., Stanislaus

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