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GCC Focusing On Quality Representation for Juvenile Offenders

Written by Greater Cleveland Congregations

GCC, Juvenile Court judges, and Public Defenders are working together to increase quality representation for children in Cuyahoga County’s Juvenile Justice System.

Kids do not belong in adult prison. Yes, some kids make terrible decisions with horrendous consequences. We can and should hold them accountable, but throwing our kids into adult prisons only makes an awful situation worse. And in Cuyahoga County, we still send more of our kids to adult court and adult prison than any other county in Ohio. 6x more than Franklin County and 4x more than Hamilton County.

Today, GCC, Juvenile Court judges and Public Defenders are working together to increase quality representation for children in Cuyahoga County’s Juvenile Justice System. A dedicated lawyer with the right resources can make all the difference in a child’s life. Not to help kids avoid justice, but to keep innocent kids out of jail and keep kids who have been convicted out of the adult prison system. 

“All of the children of our community should get the best representation possible,” said Rev. Dr. Napoleon Harris V of Antioch Baptist Church. “As a result of these findings, GCC has been sharpening its focus to identify a concrete way to make significant change.” 

According to Keisha Krumm, GCC Lead Organizer and Executive Director, every other large county in Ohio assigns nearly all their juvenile cases to their Public Defender’s Office. In Cuyahoga County, we assign most juvenile cases to private attorneys. 

“Our research shows that the Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Office can provide quality representation for children because their attorneys are well-suited to represent children facing discretionary bindover cases,” said the Rev. Ryan Wallace of Fairmount Presbyterian Church. 

“The Public Defender’s Vertical Response Unit, in particular, is uniquely positioned to represent juveniles, given its resources of social workers, paralegals and investigators and its holistic approach to understanding children and brain development.”

That’s why GCC has proactively reached out to the County’s Juvenile Court judges to address the situation. Earlier this month, GCC met with Administrative Judge Thomas O’Malley, Judge Kristin Sweeney and Judge Anne McDonough. 

“We are very encouraged by the judges’ interest and willingness to work with the Public Defender’s Office, the County Executive’s Office and GCC to develop a road map that leads to quality representation that is in line with the other large Ohio counties,” said Rev. Wallace. 

GCC will also continue to observe juvenile court hearings over the next year, as well as meet and talk with families impacted by youth bindover.GCC is currently planning a joint meeting with the Public Defender’s Office and the Juvenile Judge Court Division in the coming weeks. “It was great for us to come together as parents, grandparents, pastors, and judges. We look forward to working together to make sure all our kids get the best representation possible,” said Rev. Harris.