Bias can and does exist in Washington juvenile courts. Bias in juvenile proceedings comes in a variety of forms, including imbalanced treatment arising from the economic status of juvenile offenders, race, and the manner in which language is used in court. Preventing bias means addressing the judges and other professionals who may perpetuate it.
Focus on Judges Assigned to Juvenile Court
A major step that needs to be taken to lessen the odds of bias in proceedings regarding juvenile offenses is to focus more closely on judges assigned to these courts. Judges assigned to preside over juvenile cases should have a specifically relevant background in juvenile law. A judge presiding in juvenile court should also have a demonstrable commitment to work with youth.
The importance of ongoing education and training for juvenile court judges cannot be overstated. This includes ongoing training on juvenile development, legal developments, and judicial trends associated with adjudicating juvenile offenses. Although the term “specialization” is avoided or even prohibited in the practice of law, there is a growing sentiment that professionals with a propensity for working with juvenile offenders should be permitted and encouraged to specialize in this area of the law.
Application to Other Professionals in the Juvenile Justice System
The recommendations associated with judges assigned to juvenile courts are applicable to attorneys for the state as well as defense counsel. These legal professionals need to follow the protocols enumerated for judges to ensure that juveniles have a fair outcome.
One way of broadening the necessary training associated with the juvenile justice system in Washington is through continuing legal education and similar professional programming on topics associated with juvenile justice. Professionals who work in the juvenile justice field might be called upon to complete a minimum number of continuing education hours that focus on juvenile law and related topics.
It’s vital that juvenile offenders be afforded all their rights under the law. Young individuals who need representation in a criminal case may turn to a defense attorney for help.