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Utah and Vermont Join NJJN!

July 7, 2016
Benjamin Chambers

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In June, NJJN welcomed two new organizational members into its nationwide network of advocates working on behalf of youth in trouble with the law:
 

NJJN’s new Utah member is comprised of both the Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys (UJDA) -- the law firm dedicated to juvenile defense -- and its counterpart, the Utah Juvenile Defender Resource Center, which is responsible for training defenders.   

UJDA is unique in in the state, in that it is comprised of a team of defenders who specialize and practice solely in juvenile court as defense counsel for youth in delinquency matters. This type of specialization has resulted in an office of amazing advocates who are elevating juvenile defense and raising awareness about the unique issues youth in the system face. "We zealousy represent youth in court every day, while working to identify systemic issues that need to be brought to the attention of larger bodies, such as lawmakers, law enforcement, prosecutors, and the judiciary, to change the narrative for youth in the system,” said executive director Pam Vickrey.  

UJDA began its policy work in 2011 by promoting the creation of a juvenile competency statute, which was signed into law in 2012. Recognizing the need for additional advocacy on other issues in youth justice policy, UJDA continued its work to pass legislation for the automatic appointment of counsel for youth with felony charges, create more stringent standards for waiver in misdemeanor cases, limit offenses eligible for direct file, and require the juvenile court to develop standards addressing when a youth can be shackled in the courtroom. Most recently, it played a crucial role in the passage of legislation in 2016 to end juvenile life without parole for youth transferred to the adult system.  

“While effective and consistent representation of counsel is core to our mission, we know that reform is required across the board to create a system that better serves youth. Moving forward, we hope to address the broad needs of youth in trouble with the law, from expungement to eliminating the valid court exception, to sex offense laws,” said Vickrey. 

By joining NJJN’s membership, Vickrey hopes to connect with fellow reformers. She encourages readers who see connections between their own work and that of UJDA to get in touch with her. You can find contact information here.

Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform (VCJR) joins NJJN as an affiliate member whose advocacy efforts to date have focused deeply on criminal justice sentencing reform.

“While the majority of our work has focused on adult reforms, our priority is to keep everyone--youth and adults—out of the justice system in the first place,” said Suzi Wizowaty, executive director of VCJR.  “We are committed to ensuring that youth stay out of the adult system, addressing the disparate treatment of youth of color and youth with disabilities that lands them in the school-to-prison pipeline, and ensuring that youth get the supports they need to be successful.”

Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform expressed excitement about joining the network to learn more about the best practices for meeting youth needs. As Wizowaty said, “While youth are not our exclusive focus, we want to make sure that youth issues remain on our policy radar. By joining the network, we hope to learn more about ways Vermont can better support our youth.”

In addition to their policy work, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform convenes the Vermont Justice Coalition, facilitates a Families and Friends of Vermont Inmates group, organizes educational forums around the state, and engages in numerous community organizing and leadership-building activities. VCJR’s new juvenile justice intern will support this work in fall 2016. To find out more about VCJR’s work, we encourage you to explore its page.


 Photo by Flickr user alborzshawn.

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