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Philosophy of Youth Court

With the growing number of adolescents going through "the System" each year, there is an increasing need for sentencing alternatives and public education of the judicial process. Youth Court offers a voluntary alternative to the criminal justice system for young people who have committed a crime or an offense. The goal of Youth Court is to intervene in early anti-social, delinquent, and criminal behavior, and to reduce the incidence and prevent the escalation of such behavior. Youth court strives to promote feelings of self esteem and desire for self improvement, and to foster a healthy attitude toward rules and authority.

The purpose, aside from sentencing, is to educate and motivate both defendants and student participants while promoting better communication between attorneys, defendants, the court, and the  community.  The Youth Court Program is two-fold in its purpose. First, to subject youthful offenders to sentences by their own peers; and secondly, to encourage more participation in the judicial process with increased understanding of the day-to-day application by all young people.

Through enabling teens to understand the consequences of their actions, by focusing on their strengths and giving them an opportunity to take an active role in making amends, The Third District Youth Court is a unique process that incorporates teens, victims, and the community in a new form of justice—one that is believed to be effective in reducing juvenile crime. Entrusting youth to make difficult decisions about a peer’s behavior sends an unmistakable message: that these youth are valued, influential, contributing members of our community. Moreover, the sentence is likely to be more casually related to the offense than a fine or even specified hours of volunteer service given by a judge. For example, offenders in Youth Court  are often asked to write essays about the offense or its effect on them and/or their victim. Some youth offenders are required to read these essays to a class at a local school.

Lastly, the participation and education of young people is accomplished by the structure of Youth Court. A student jury is employed to hear two to four offenses each Youth Court session. Each session also requires student attorneys, a student bailiff, a student clerk, and a student coordinator. Over the course of a year, several hundred students develop an appreciation of the law, the work of attorneys and jurors, and the process of sentencing. The learning involves real cases and real defendants and is, therefore, much more practical in its application.

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