Juvenile offenders will soon get more help navigating the criminal justice system both in and out of the courtroom.
The Delaware Public Defender’s office plans to hire a few new lawyers to solely work with young people after receiving more than $740,000 in federal grant money.
“Although all of Family Court is geared towards helping the child – rehabilitating them, getting the best possible result for them – it is still an adversarial process," said Lisa Minutola, chief of legal services for the Public Defender's Office.
"A child is still charged with a delinquent act and the juvenile defender is there to be their voice in that system.”
That cash may also hire someone to focus on helping kids scrub juvenile offenses from their records.
Should they remain on their records, Minutola says most employers or schools see them as big red checkmarks.
“Colleges, employment applications, they all ask questions about arrest or adjudications and that can end up barring a child who has otherwise been successful from getting into a college that they want to go to, from getting a job that they are qualified for,” she said.
Reforming Delaware’s juvenile justice system has been the offices priority over the past year – including ending the near-mandatory use of shackles and expanding expungement opportunities.
She notes her office would also like the General Assembly to expand the juvenile expungement law further to allow those with multiple felonies to ask a judge to consider erasing their records.
Right now, only those with one felony may petition the court.