Barton County continues to find ways to help youth offenders to get back on the straight and narrow, including through the use of peer programs.
Juvenile Services Director Laurie White reported to the Barton County Commission on one such program this week.
She explained that Teen Court continues to serve the county.
“The 20th Judicial District Teen Court program continues to provide first-time misdemeanor offenders the benefit and the reality of being sentenced by a jury of their peers. It offers those who decide to volunteer as jurors the experience of a court room, the opportunity to serve their community and help guide youth in a positive and responsible direction,” she reported. “It also looks good on a college or employment application.”
White noted the program, which began its current run early in 2008, has touched a lot of young lives. “As of August 2, Teen Court has served or is in the process of serving 210 respondents from Barton, Rice and Russell counties.
“Teen Court has an active jury pool of approximately 95 members.
“Respondents have completed 3,245 hours of community work service and paid $4,100 in restitution to victims.
“Teen Court respondents and jurors have benefited from the wisdom and insight each of our adult volunteers share when participating as the Judge presiding at the Court session.”
She added, the main objective of Teen Court is to give the victim, offender and community “a way to be fully restored.”
Restorative justice is a concept that allows all to:
• Understand the impact of criminal behavior to the offender
• Acknowledge and begin to repair the harm done to the victim and community
• Empower victims in their need of closure.
Those who use its services pay a price, White added. “Teen Court assigns consequences that are specifically designed to provide education and guidance to the offender. It requires active participation, critical thinking and development of problem solving skills. It instructs offenders about justice, the law and the consequences of actions and makes them part of the solution to juvenile crime.”
According to the explanation of the service through the county’s web site:
“Generally, Teen Court is an educational diversion program that operates on the Municipal Court level.
“The program provides an alternative response for the juvenile justice system for first-time, misdemeanor juvenile offenders, in which teens determine the appropriate sanctions for the offender.
“Teen Court allows youth in middle and high school after admitting guilt to have a “sentencing hearing” with students acting as prosecutor, defense attorney and jurors.
“An adult judge presides and a jury of peers determines the sentence.
“Due to budget constraints, it was eliminated from the Juvenile Services offerings.
“After determining a budget source in 2007, it was reintroduced in 2008.”