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Legislative Wins Improve Legal Representation for Utah's Youth & Help More Kids Stay Out of Residential Facilities

May 29, 2019
Courtney McSwain

member Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys (UJDA) celebrated two significant legislative wins this session, which will help youth gain consistent representation while involved in court proceedings and keep more youth in their homes and out of youth residential facilities.   

A big change was ushered in with the passage of S.B. 32, which created the assumption that all minors (under the age of 18) are considered to be “indigent individuals,” thus required to have appointed counsel from the beginning and during every stage of their court proceedings. Previously, public defenders might be present for initial hearings but not during later proceedings where significant actions can still take place. The law was backed by the Utah Indigent Defense Commission (IDC), which, among their many duties, provides state appropriated funds to local governments to supplement public defense services. With the passage of S.B. 32, the IDC received a $5 million allocation to re-grant to local governments  the largest allocation received since the commission's creation. The $5 million is an encouraging allocation, but a drop in the bucket compared to the $14 million in requests currently facing the IDC. Pam Vickrey, Executive Director of UJDA and an IDC Commissioner says…  

The second legislative win came with the passage of H.B. 404, which builds upon the youth justice reform bill passed in 2017. During that year, a comprehensive set of reforms (H.B. 239) helped more youth to stay in their homes, avoid formal court proceedings for minor issues and gain access to expanded community-based programs. The 2017 reform bill also stipulated that money saved from these efforts would be re-invested in evidence-based services. This year’s passage of H.B. 404 further stipulated that re-investment dollars be used only for non-residential, evidenced-based programs. As a result, funds will now be available to help youth access counseling, family therapy, special classes or evaluations needed to keep them in their homes.  

Both of these legislative wins have the cumulative effect of keeping more youth out of the court or out of residential facilities. Next year, UJDA will continue to raise awareness about the IDC as well as look at raising the age efforts. Further, with grant dollars from the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, in partnership with the State Advisory Group, UJDA will host clinics throughout the state to help youth complete expungement, while raising awareness of the process and its demands on youth and families.  


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