Youth Advocacy Project

If it wasn't for YAP, I wouldn't be working and in school right now. I'd be in jail.

-- Former YAP client, age 18

Established by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, Roxbury, MA, in 1992, the Youth Advocacy Project (YAP) is a multidisciplinary, community-based juvenile defense initiative that combines social services with legal services to represent clients thoroughly and to find community-based alternatives to commitment and incarceration. YAP also engages in violence prevention efforts by linking high-risk youth with available community services and offering Know the Law, a community education workshop. YAP's mission is to provide quality legal representation to court-involved youth and to prevent initial and repeat court involvement among young people.

YAP began as an initiative to assign experienced trial attorneys to defend juveniles charged with serious offenses. Attorneys quickly recognized the diverse social service needs that contributed to their clients' being in court and the problems that resulted from court involvement. In 1993, with startup funding support from the Boston, Shaw, and Public Welfare Foundations, YAP added nonlegal staff and became a multidisciplinary project with an innovative approach to advocating for young defendants, both in the courtroom and in the community. In addition to legal representation, YAP provides training and consultation, community education, needs assessment, service planning and sentencing advocacy, referrals to community-based services, psychological evaluation, and case management.

In its first year, staffed with 2 lawyers, 1 social worker, and 1 community liaison, YAP represented 33 clients, most of whom were charged with murder or other serious violent offenses. YAP also reached out to the community, looking for resources and opportunities for partnerships. Now, after 5 years, the project has expanded to include a project director, an assistant director, two supervising attorneys, three staff attorneys, three social workers, a community liaison, and a psychologist. The caseload also has expanded to more than 750 cases each year, representing young people who have been charged as delinquents or youthful offenders (young people who are eligible to receive an adult sentence). Outreach and partnership with community and local agencies also have expanded, becoming the project's greatest resources. YAP tracks the availability of a wide range of programs for youth in the Boston area and also works to identify program gaps. YAP also has developed and participated in numerous prevention initiatives directed at youth who are at high risk of initial or repeat court involvement.

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Innovative Approaches to Juvenile Indigent Defense Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  December 1998