Youth Court, a system of restorative justice run by youth and for youth, has proven to be extremely valuable in holding youth accountable for their actions. The success of the program can be measured by the reduction in the recidivism rate, or repeat offenders, among the teenage population.

Historically many youth offenders feel that they are just being pushed through the juvenile justice system. The goal of Youth Court is to make the judicial system useful and meaningful to young offenders in hopes that they will learn from their mistakes. This is crucial since the goal of our judicial system is prevention through correction. Youth Court gives individuals a chance to reflect about their wrongdoing and correct their behavior before they become mainstream judicial subjects. This system serves as a second chance for these youth by allowing them to have their record cleared of their crime once they have completed the sentence rendered by the Youth Court tribunal.

The Youth Court program allows them a renewal of their lives as law-abiding citizens in society.

The evidence of the Youth Court system’s effectiveness in dealing with juvenile crimes has been made clear during the four years that the Auburn area has been participating in the Youth Court program. It has been a period during which the recidivism rate has been a very low 7%.

The underlying principle of the Youth Court system is that peer influence is more powerful in dealing with juvenile crime because peers are more in touch with the influences that affect youth in our communities and schools. Youth Courts render more appropriate, personalized dispositions (sentences) because teens are more in touch with this stage in life then adults are.

In the courtroom youth offenders stand before a tribunal of entirely youth participants; students form the three-person judge panel as well as serving as the bailiff, the court clerk, the defense attorney, and the prosecution attorney. After hearing the evidence, openings, and closings of the case, the tribunal recesses to reach a disposition for the respondent in the case. The process of reaching a disposition is done exclusively by the Youth Court participants unless additional help or information is needed to reach an appropriate disposition for the respondent. District Court Judge Paul Cote is always in attendance at the hearings should an issue arise. Typically the dispositions consist of community service, a letter of apology and an essay on the effect of their crime on the community.

The qualifications that we look for in Youth Court student participants are the ability to speak publicly, problem solving skills and the ability to extrapolate the facts of the case at hand and form them into coherent thoughts and arguments. If a student has an interest in pursuing a law or government related career it would be advantageous for them to take advantage of this opportunity. Youth Court provides a real, first hand look into our judicial system. It gives students insight into the legal profession, political science and policy making fields as well as the criminal justice system.

However, this system comes at a price. The L/A Youth Court has struggled through four years with minimal funding. We are currently looking for additional funding sources so the Youth Court will be an available venue for dealing with juvenile crime for years to come. Enlisting participation in the program has also been a problem. Other area schools expressed interest in being involved and fizzled out soon after. This prohibits the continuity of involvement that is essential to the success of a Youth Court program. Effectively getting the message out about the Youth Court program has also been an issue for Auburn and other schools in the community. A possible solution to this problem would be to inform the government and history teachers about the program so that they would then explain the value of the program to students.

Youth Court is an important activity where students can develop many skills that they will utilize later in life. The opportunities are endless for the participants in Youth Court and they can feel fulfilled for the difference that they are making in their community by becoming involved.

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