Teen court gives wayward youth a jury of their peers

Imagine making a poor decision that could change the course of your life. Now imagine having a second chance to correct your mistake and learning how to be a productive citizen.

The Jefferson County Teen Court program in partnership with the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle is a community-based intervention/prevention program designed to provide an alternative response for the juvenile justice system for first-time, nonviolent juvenile offenders by having a community young people determine the appropriate sanctions for the offender.

The program is a legally binding alternative system of justice that will hold youthful offenders accountable in an effort to promote long-term behavioral change that leads to enhanced public safety. The program is designed for youth in the 7th through 12th grades and between ages 11 and 18. Juvenile offenders are referred to teen court by the Jefferson County juvenile prosecuting attorney’s office. Both the juvenile offender and his parent must agree to the terms of Jefferson County Teen Court.

Over the past year, adult volunteers representing county and municipal government, law enforcement, schools and the community have come together to build a program that will provide corrective opportunities for juvenile offenders and also leadership opportunities for community youth. The teen court model is one that has been used all over the country and there are currently more than 12 teen courts in West Virginia alone. Statewide, teen courts are allowed for by West Virginia Code §49-5-13d, which outlines the disciplinary provisions. Any participating juvenile offender must complete between 16 and 40 hours of community service and complete at least two jury duty sessions before successfully completing his disposition.

The teen court youth attorneys and jury members have gone through a training program and will receive ongoing training from six local attorneys who are volunteering their time by serving as teen court judges and advisors. As youth volunteers, teen court members will learn valuable leadership, public speaking and community service skills. In the courtroom setting, teen court members have the opportunity to defend or prosecute their peers in a court of law.

Any juvenile offender who agrees to participate in teen court does so with the understanding that the court is conducted by his peers and with a licensed West Virginia attorney presiding as the court judge. The goal is that the juvenile offender’s participation in teen court will place them in a different peer group, which will require that they complete their community service so that they may change the behavior that originally brought them to teen court. Any juvenile offender who does not comply with the teen court procedures will be referred back to the juvenile justice system.

State Code provides for the program funding through a $5 fee that is assessed to municipal traffic citations and county misdemeanors and traffic citations. This program is funded solely through community members who are in violation of the law. Tax dollars are not used to support the teen court program.

The teen court proceedings are treated with confidentiality and any juvenile hearing will be closed to the public. However, a mock trial is scheduled for Monday at the Ranson Police Department court room. The community is invited to attend the mock trial, which will begin at 6 p.m. and conclude at 7:30 p.m. There will be a question-and-answer session following the mock trial.

— Contact Stacie Rohn at 304-279-8514 for more information about the teen court program

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2 Responses to Teen court gives wayward youth a jury of their peers

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