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Greater Cleveland Congregations Juvenile Court Volunteers Needed

GCC Youth Bindover Team Update

An “if only” opportunity for you to make a difference!

—from Forest Hill GCC co-leader Diana Woodbridge

At GCC’s Justice for Our Children Action last January, those of us who attended were deeply disturbed to learn that Cuyahoga County sends more children to adult court and prison than any other urban County in Ohio. Since that Action meeting in January, GCC’s Bindover Team, of which FHC is part, has been meeting with key leaders and stakeholders to learn how our juvenile system works. We have also continued to explore how other urban counties deal with offenses by children in their communities.

One of the differences is that other urban counties use public defenders to represent youthful offenders in 100% of cases, unless there is a conflict. In Cuyahoga County, the Juvenile Court judge determines whether cases will be represented by public defenders or by court-appointed private attorneys—with the result that currently the majority of cases are represented by private attorneys appointed by the judge.

Our Bindover Team believes that public defenders:

  • are better suited than private attorneys to represent these serious cases;
  • are totally dedicated to representing youth;
  • have more resources (such as social workers to address family trauma);
  • are housed in the same building as the detention center, and can meet regularly with their clients; and,
  • they can continue to represent youth who are transferred to adult court, something not all private attorneys can do.

We raised this issue in our meeting with the Juvenile Court judges and are delighted to report that the judges agreed to have GCC representatives attend Juvenile Court hearings in their courtrooms beginning this fall. The Bindover team cannot do this alone. We will need a team of volunteers from our GCC member congregations, if we are to cover each and every hearing.

The goals are to:

  1. Document issues of injustice in how youth are being treated and defended, and build the case for budgeting for the change that is needed.
  2. Make contact with the families of youth facing bindover charges to hear their experience, provide support, and invite their participation in addressing the injustices in the current system.

If you have been wishing “if only” I could do something to make a difference, here’s your opportunity!

I would love for FHC to step forward with a team of 5 -10 people to join me in this work! If you are thinking, yes, perhaps this is something I can do, please contact Diana Woodbridge.

The Team is planning informational meetings to provide details involved in attending a hearing. If you decide to step up as a volunteer, we will provide training and pair you with a GCC volunteer who has previously had experience attending a hearing.

Thanks for considering!

Social Justice