What is Teen Court?
Teen Court is a diversion program sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club, where youth defendants between the ages of 10 and 18 are given a second chance. Through a referral from the Office of the States Attorney, young people have an opportunity to stand in front of a jury of their peers to explain the crime they committed. The program has been in existence since 2007.
The program’s objectives are to:
1. Rehabilitate the juveniles who engage in the program
2. Instill in the youth a sense of accountability for their actions
3. Give youth the ability to understand the detrimental impact a criminal history can have on their future
The program also allows our organization to collaborate with local businesses and individuals who serve as role models. Local attorneys serve as our Teen Court judges. Teen volunteers are trained to serve as jurors, attorneys, bailiff and clerks. All of the youth involved achieve a true understanding of the consequences of breaking the law.
Watertown area members founded the program so that teen first-offenders who are guilty of a misdemeanor might serve an appropriate sentence. Upon successful completion of the program, they will have their record expunged and offenders will have opportunities to participate in community service activities. The cases that have been seen by the program include vandalism, petty theft underage possession of alcohol, and possession of marijuana.
After the case has been heard, the teen jury deliberates on a disposition. This disposition is made up of community service, community action points, Where am I’s, essays, classes, and also to sit in as a juror for future sessions. The defendant then has 90 days to complete this disposition. Every second and fourth Monday, the defendant is expected to meet with the Teen Court Coordinator to discuss progress and program objectives.
Upon successful completion of the program, a letter is sent to the States Attorney for dismissal of the case. A completion letter is also sent to the defendent. An evaluation of Teen Court is sent to parents/guardians and is included in the final paperwork. Six months after the completion date, a re-evaluation of the defendent’s record is noted for recidivism rates.
Throughout the entire process, we see the defendants, parents, and student and adult volunteers all benefiting from the program. In 2013, the Teen Court program had 15 cases. 15 young community members were given a choice to be accountable and take action for self-improvement. This program reinforces the mission of the Boys & Girls Club of Watertown, which is ”to inspire and enable all young people to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.”
It is truly a win-win program for the Watertown community. The program engages students who are interested in the legal process, provides adult mentors to teach and instill values regarding the legal system…all while reducing recidivism rates in our community.