Youth Defense Institute Receives Grant

Youth Defense Institute Receives Grant

Foundation supports Law School’s effort to stop prosecution of children in the adult criminal justice system

The Public Welfare Foundation has awarded $150,000 to the Youth Defense Institute at the Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law. The grant enables Barry Law to advance its community mission of protecting children’s rights.

 The Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Program provides grants to promote systemic reforms aimed at ending the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth as adults, and to promote equitable treatment of all young Americans. Because Florida prosecutes more children in the adult system than any other state, the Youth Defense Institute’s work falls squarely within the Foundation’s interests.

 The Institute was created by Barry Law Dean Leticia M. Diaz and the Law School faculty. With support from the Florida Bar Foundation, its first activities included addressing Florida cases in which children were sentenced to life without parole.  For the past three years, the Institute has served as the statewide clearinghouse and support system for strategic litigation exclusively on juvenile life sentences without parole. Based on the success of its collaborative work with attorneys throughout Florida, the Institute recently expanded its mission to the much large realm of strategic litigation aimed at any process where children are at risk of being charged as an adult. 

 “Our Youth Defense Institute has produced amazing result in just a few years’ time,” Diaz said. “This $150,000 grant is not only an endorsement of our mission, but also an important resource that will enable us to better target the Florida jurisdictions sending the most children to the adult criminal justice system.”

Ilona Vila, Director of the Institute at Barry Law, said the Public Welfare Foundation’s support “speaks volumes about the extraordinary work done by Florida attorneys dedicated to protecting children’s rights.”

 “The United States Supreme Court has now handed down three cases with the message that children are different,” Vila said. “The Court has repeatedly identified the marked differences between children and adults in maturity, ability to appreciate consequences of their actions, culpability and the possibility for change and rehabilitation.  Getting that message by reducing the unjust prosecution of children as adults through strategic litigation is what the Institute is all about.”