Limited Justice: An Assessment of Access to and Quality of Juvenile Defense Counsel in Kansas

Over the course of a year, the National Juvenile Defender Center spent a year assessing Kansas’ juvenile defender system and delinquency courts. Through interviews, court observations and research, the authors found that although nearly every youth facing charges is represented by counsel, the quality of counsel does not fulfill constitutional obligations, meet national standards, or satisfy professional responsibility requirements. 

Key Findings: 

  • In some counties youth who are not detained are not represented by counsel the first time they appear in court. In about half of the counties visited, stakeholders reported that defense counsel is appointed at, not before, the initial court hearing. 
  • Kansa has not adopted standards of representation specific to attorneys who represent youth in delinquency cases, 
  • Stakeholders recognize a need for defenders to develop an expertise in juvenile defense and for all attorneys who represent youth  to have more training, both before the start of and throughout their careers. 
  • Young people and their parents can be charged if the youth chooses to exercise their right to counsel. Attorneys are entitled to a reasonable fee for services which varies across counties. 
  • Courts may assess a youth’s parent for the expenses for the care and custody of a youth subject to a delinquency court proceeding. This Includes any costs related to ordering a child in detention, commitment, or out of home placement. 
  • When a youth is adjudicated, the court may impose a fine of up to $1,000 for each offense. 
  • Indigenous youth are 98 percent more likely to be referred to court than white youth.  
  • Black and Latinx youth are about 75 percent more likely to be detained than white youth. 
  • When charged, one in five white youth, one in four Latinx youth, and one in three Black youth in Kansas are held in secure detention. 
  • Once adjudicated, Black and Latinx youth are twice as likely to be incarcerated as white youth. Indigenous youth are held in secure confinement more than twice as long as white youth.
  • Young people who are brought from detention or another secure facility are nearly always shackled and remain fully shackled throughout the entirety of their hearing. 


  • Implement a strong, specialized state supported system of juvenile defense through the creation of a statewide juvenile public defense system that is separate and apart from the adult defense system.
  • Create and enforce statewide juvenile defense practice standards with clear measures and expectations.
  • Presume young people cannot afford to hire counsel and automatically assign defense counsel prior to the first appearance in juvenile court. 
  • Eliminate fees and costs related to juvenile counsel and juvenile court involvement. 
  • Eliminate the indiscriminate shackling of youth in juvenile court. 
  • Provide and support a continuum of services for children and adolescents across the state. 

You can access the full assessment here.