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Lewiston/Auburn Youth Court

Grade level: 7-12

Promising Approaches

  • Instruction in Government, History, Law, and Democracy
  • Service-learning and community service
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Simulations of Democratic Processes

Overview

Special Features

Civic Learning Goals

Evaluation Studies

Required Resources

Available Resources

Professional Development Opportunities

Snapshots of Practice in Action

Contact Information

Overview

Youth courts are programs in which youth who have committed misdemeanors or status offenses appear before a body of their peers for sentencing. The members of the court go through intensive training in order to evaluate the behavior and decide appropriate dispositions. Ordinarily, youth courts deal with first-time offenders, who agree to participate in the youth court process. They are typically sentenced to community service, restitution, a letter of apology or some combination thereof. Many courts operate on restorative justice principles, which emphasize repairing harm caused by crime by involving the victim, offender and community. Youth courts can be administered and operated by a variety of agencies within a community, including law enforcement agencies, juvenile probation departments, juvenile courts, private nonprofit agencies, and schools.

Youth courts have several advantages over the formal juvenile justice system for certain types of offenders. They can deliver sentences carefully tailored for the particular offense, speedier dispositions, and pro-social peer pressure. They also reduce the burden on the juvenile justice system. Research on youth courts demonstrates that youth courts can reduce recidivism rates among juvenile offenders.

The Lewiston/Auburn Youth Court'smission is to work toward creating safer, better and stronger communities through educating youths in restorative justice and by giving youth respondents a second chance to be part of this safer and stronger community. Since hearing its first case in June, 2002, the court has rendered dispositions in 58 cases, involving: assault, burglary, criminal mischief, petty theft, receipt of stolen property and other misdemeanor offenses. With a recidivism rate of under 10%, which is consistent with other youth courts elsewhere in the nation, the Lewiston/Auburn Youth Court presents an excellent model for other communities in the state that are interested in youth court.

Special Features

Nationally, there are over 900 youth courts in operation. Though they all have the same purpose, they differ in many ways: the structure of the courts, the type of cases they handle, the age of youth they accept as defendants and volunteers, the sentencing guidelines they follow, etc. The flexibility in the concept allows stakeholders to determine the most appropriate set-up for their particular communities.

Civic Learning Goals

Civic Knowledge

  • Key principles, documents, and ideas essential to constitutional democracy
  • Structures, processes, functions, branches and level of U.S. government and legal system

Civic Skills

  • Critical thinking, active listening, analyzing public policies, problems and assets, and understanding multiple perspectives
  • Communicating one's position through writing or speaking

Civic Dispositions

  • Developing tolerance, respect, and appreciation of difference
  • Developing concern with the rights and welfare of others
  • Developing a belief in one's ability to make a difference

Evaluation Studies

The following publications are available online at www.youthcourt.net.

The Impact of Teen Courts on Young Offenders

Teen Courts: A Focus on Research

Findings from the OJJDP Evaluation of Teen Courts to be Released at National Youth Court Conference (Article inSpring 2002 issue of In Session)

Encouraging Findings from the OJJDP Evaluation (Article fromSummer 2002 issue of In Session)

Required Resources

Youth courts require a supportive community, a coordinating committee to oversee the creation and funding of the court, youth volunteers, members of the legal community to train the volunteers, space in which to operate the court, and a coordinator to manage the court and keep records.

Available Resources

The National Youth CourtCenter, operated by the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) and funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, conducts training seminars and provides technical assistance to help teen/youth courts develop or enhance their programs on varying topics each year. Training has been provided on youth court guidelines, developing and implementing new programs, restorative justice, evaluation and grant writing, and case management software programs for youth courts. Visit the National Youth Court website at www.youthcourt.net.

Professional Development Opportunities

See above and at www.youthcourt.net

Snapshots of the Practice in Action

Judge Paul A. Cote, Advisory to the Lewiston/Auburn Youth Court: First, from an educational point of view, those who participate as our teen judges, attorneys, and other court officers gain an appreciation of the criminal and juvenile justice system that would be hard to replicate in any other context. LAYC deals with real cases-actual juvenile offenders with real victims. The weighty responsibility of dealing with real cases enhances the learning experience for all those involved. Youth Court provides a unique opportunity to scores of teenagers for an in depth appreciation of an important area of law.


Second, from the perspective of the juvenile offender, Youth Court presents a living model of the concept of restorative justice. LYAC judges sit as a panel of three, deciding the appropriate disposition for youth offenders charged with the less serious juvenile crimes. The dispositions tend to involve community service work, letters of apology, essays on the detrimental effects of the criminal behavior, and the like. There is a salutary effect simply by having youthful offenders receive the disposition (sentence) from their peers, instead of from an adult judge. We have had excellent success in that a very low percentage of our juvenile respondents re-offend. From the community's perspective, Youth Court is an effective tool for reducing crime and dealing effectively with kids just starting out on a criminal path.

From the court's perspective, the time devoted in creating and maintaining a youth court is time well spent. Although such a court probably does not provide tremendous relief to the regular court's juvenile caseload, there is still be a significant number of cases diverted to Youth Court, which may lighten the regular juvenile docket. More importantly, the reduced recidivism rate and the educational aspects of our LAYC as described above, or either alone, justifies our Youth Court program.

Vanessa Ouellette, Student Representative to LYAC from Edward Little High School: Youth Court, a system of restorative justice run by youth and for youth, is extremely valuable in holding youth accountable for their actions in a manner that reduces the recidivism rate among the teenage population. Whereas many youth 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 youth in order that they would learn from their mistakes. Youth Court also gives individuals a chance to correct their behavior before they become subject to constant crimes and become mainstream judicial subjects. This system serves as a second chance for these youth by allowing them, once they have completed their disposition in its entirety, to have their record cleaned of their crime, serving as a renewal of their lives for their new potential in society.

In the courtroom youth can expect to witness a tribunal of entirely youth participants as well as a bailiff, court clerk, defense attorney, and prosecution attorney consisting of trained Youth Court participants. After hearing the evidence, openings, and closings of the case, the tribunal recesses to reach a disposition for the respondent (defendant) in the case. This process of reaching a disposition is done exclusively by the Youth Court participants unless additional help or information is needed. Typically the dispositions consist of community service, letters of apology, and essays on the effect of their crime on the community.

Contact Information

Richard Kendall
207 Stevens Mill Road
Auburn, ME 04210
207-783-7324
slaggy@aol.com

National Youth Court Center
c/o American Probation and Parole Association
P.O. Box 11910
Lexington, KY 40578-1910
Phone: 859-244-8193
Fax: 859-244-8001
Email: nycc@csg.org
Website: http://www.youthcourt.net
Youth website: http://www.ycyouth.net

Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools: Education for Democracy