Youth Courts are becoming increasingly popular as a way to divert juveniles from becoming an incarcerated adult statistic in our criminal justice system. Youth courts, primarily run by volunteers and community organizations, provide benefits to all involved, and serve both to teach about the criminal justice system, and also aid in demonstrating the value of volunteerism and social activism.
What are Youth Courts? Youth courts are courts set up to allow juveniles to participate in the criminal trials and sentencing of their peers. There are several models of youth courts that range from teens having total control over the criminal trial (under the supervision of adults) of one of their peers. In this model, the youth serve as the judge, jury, prosecutor and defense attorney. In another model, the youth participants only handle the sentencing phase of a juvenile who has already pled guilty to criminal conduct. In a different model, a legal professional will preside as judge over the trial of the accused juvenile to give better structure and control over the proceedings. In all models, a youth may in other roles such as the bailiff and court clerk.
There are many benefits to having juvenile criminal courts divert youth into youth courts. First, for delinquent juveniles, youth court programs have the effect of exposing them to the criminal court system without actually giving them a criminal record. They may initially get arrested and have to post bail, but that is common and nothing will on their permanent record. If you are looking to learn how to post bail, there are a number of bondsman and attorney sites out there that discuss this process. The exposure serves as a teachable moment for the youth and they may learn the consequences of his behavior without experiencing the harshness of a criminal justice system intent on hiding and locking them up. It is an unfortunate fact that our prisons are full and overflowing. Many of the incarcerated have histories going back to minor offenses committed as teens crimes like vandalism, disorderly conduct and theft. These minor offenses introduced them to the criminal justice system and gave provided a record that ushered them into a adulthood of criminal charges and an endless cycle of incarceration. These courts can be instrumental in teaching youth about the criminal justice system by addressing these minor offenses in a constructive way and diverting them from the revolving door of adult criminal court and prisons.
Second, youth courts build upon themselves by teaching volunteerism. The peers involved in youth court will have likely passed through a youth court at one point or another. For example, if a teens criminal offense has been heard by the youth court, and he is found guilty of disorderly conduct, the teen jury might sentence him to 100 hours of community service. A portion of that service might be to serve as a juror on a future youth court. Teens and young adults learn how to serve their communities in this way. This exposure is invaluable in creating responsible adults who know what it is to administer justice and participate in civic duties. For youth who might be interested in a legal career, what better way to experience what its like to be a prosecutor or a public defender, or even a judge? The lessons are endless and the benefits are plenty.