An Assessment of Access to and Quality of Juvenile Defense Counsel in Oregon

This assessment examines how and when youth access counsel, the quality of representation they receive, and the systemic impediments that prevent youth from receiving high-quality representation. Over the course of a year, NJDC staff and consultants conducted a series of meetings, interviews, and site visits with stakeholders to gather information and insight into Oregon’s juvenile defense delivery system. NJDC and its partners also conducted a simultaneous examination of the juvenile code, case law, and other statutes related to juvenile defense. The assessment found that Oregon does not provide oversight or enforcement of the minimum qualifications and best practices it has adopted for representing young people in delinquency cases, and therefore does not ensure quality representation. 

Key Findings: 

  • Disparities exist in both how and when children access counsel and the quality of representation received, including how attorneys investigate, prepare and advocate for youth.
  • Youth and their families may be charged for administrative costs of determining eligibility for, and other costs related to, the provision of appointed counsel.
  • Youth may also be ordered to pay the costs of mental health assessments, costs and expenses for the medical care of youth in detention, costs of education and counseling, supervision and child support for youth under the court’s jurisdiction.
  • Youth are subject to punitive fines if found delinquent for an act that would be an offense if committed by an adult. 
  • Practices for assessing, collecting, and defending against financial assessments vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and within jurisdictions.
  • In most sites visited, courts impose supervision or probation fees for nearly all children– the amount charged and frequency varying by jurisdiction.
  • The imposition of costs for appointment of counsel, accessing services, detention or placement, and GPS monitoring are now rare, although still permitted under the code.
  • Children and their families may face a number of consequences for failing to satisfy court debt including violations of probation, extension probation until pay or age out, civil judgements, tax liens, and collections for outstanding payments and late fees


  • Automatically appoint counsel for all youth. 
  • Abolish all fees and costs associated with access to a publicly funded juvenile defender.
  • Ensure all youth are protected from uniformed waiver of counsel. 
  • Provide ample accessible specialized training for juvenile delinquency defenders.
  • Enforce state and national performance standards. 
  • Eliminate existing racial disparities in the juvenile court system. 
  • Enact rules of procedure for delinquency matters.

You can read the full assessment here.

Amanda J. Powell
National Juvenile Defender Center