Youth Court, also called teen, peer and student court, is a national program that provides an alternative to the traditional juvenile justice system for young offenders. The National Youth Court Center (NYCC) was created by the Office of Juvenile Justice and delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Forty eight states and the District of Columbia have Youth Court programs. Auburn has the only active Youth Court program in Maine.

The impetus behind the formation of the Lewiston/Auburn Youth Court was longtime Auburn resident and businessman Richard Kendall. “I read an article about the Youth Court program in Reader’s Digest a few years ago. It sounded like a good idea. I thought about it for awhile and thought …who will do it…who can make it happen in this community?” He decided he could, and did. With the support of Julia Underwood of the University of Southern Maine’s Law and Civics Education program and Police Chief Richard Small, Deputy Philip Crowell and Juvenile Detective Randy Robbins all of the Auburn Police Department, an Advisory Committee was formed and the program began in 2002.

There are four primary youth court program models: the Adult Judge model, Youth Judge model, Peer Jury model and a Youth Tribunal model. The Advisory Committee which consists of representatives from Edward Little high school faculty and student body, the District Attorney’s office, the Lewiston and Auburn Police departments and the legal community chose the Youth Tribunal model. According to Dick Kendall, Chair of the Advisory Committee, “If it was to be a youth court…we decided it should really be the youth that were involved in all the roles. Also, with a tribunal no one student feels singled out for the decision and they can work together to come up with the appropriate sentencing.” There are monthly proceedings, conducted entirely by students, at which two or three cases are typically heard. The hearings are held in a courtroom at the Eighth District Court House in Lewiston. Three students act as the judging tribunal while other students serve as the prosecuting attorney who presents the facts of the incident, the defense attorney who presents the case of the youth offender, a court bailiff, and a clerk who records the court proceedings which are kept on file at the police department. Students switch roles each month to gain a better understanding of all aspects of the judicial proceedings.

The volunteer students have a 16 hour training program prior to participating. The training includes study of material about the judicial system and court proceedings as well as role-playing to prepare for the actual courtroom hearings. Local attorneys and judges also meet with the group to discuss and answer questions about how to present and deliberate the cases. District Court Judge Paul Cote serves as the legal advisor to the program while EL teacher Darren Leighton conducts the in-school training. The students and Mr. Leighton work closely with Detective Randy Robbins who chooses the cases that will be heard by the Youth Court.

Auburn Youth Court, as do most youth court programs, serves only as a sentencing court. Admission of guilt by the youth respondent, the offender, is a prerequisite. Cases usually involve offenses such as shoplifting, vandalism and criminal mischief. The sentence, or disposition, commonly rendered by the youth tribunal is hours of community service, a letter of apology to the victim and repair of harm done either by monetary means or by labor.

The success of the Auburn Youth Court program can be measured by the recidivism rate, repeat offenders, which is only 7%. The Auburn program’s rate is even lower than the national Youth Court recidivism average which is 10%. Those familiar with the Youth Court program attribute this success to the fact that respondents do more than make up for their misdeeds. They get a sense of the seriousness of the criminal justice system and their mistakes. Another benefit of the Youth Court system is that by performing the community service disposition the youth offenders learn a deeper lesson about their responsibility to the community. Youth Courts also ensure that more juvenile offenders face consequences for their actions by avoiding the backlog in juvenile courts. This preserves the courts’s ability to process the more severe cases. In the words of Youth Court participant Vanessa Ouellette, Youth Court is “first and foremost about helping other people. The public speaking aspect is also valuable. Lots of people have trouble with that and Youth Court really forces you to improve.” While EL students receive community service credit for serving on the Youth Court, Kim Patterson, a participant who began doing Youth Court for the credits, has continued participating, “It’s good for the community because it gives teenagers a second chance.”

Students interested in learning more about the Youth Court program can go to the main website or the youth website . To inquire abut participating on an existing Youth Court or to establish one in your community or school please contact Dick Kendall at 207-783-7324 or at [email protected] Adults interested in volunteering to support the existing program or to establish youth courts in other Maine communities should also contact Dick Kendall.

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