In order to divert minors from the criminal justice system, a program called teen court allows them to be judged by their peers for their crimes.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sierra Senor Moore presented the program to the school board as a form of intervention for at-risk children. Teen court, she said to the State Journal-Register, is a way of avoiding further action by the state attorney's juvenile division in the case of incidents that would normally be reported to the police.
“As a juvenile, you're more likely to be charged as an adult, so the current system doesn't work. Sending children through the system doesn't prevent them from getting into trouble later in life; on the contrary, they continue to re-offend and remain in the system as adults, according to research,” Moore stated.
According to Moore, offenders are given a second chance in the teen court to keep their records clean. Students may participate if their parents or guardians agree, but the process can't move forward without their consent.
Bullying, stealing and other misdemeanors can all be prosecuted in a teen court setting. Student's offense is read to him or her as the court process gets underway. If the student accepts responsibility, the next step will be clear to him or her.
An explanation from the student offender can be given during that discussion. In addition, parents are asked to attend the session in order to provide additional insight.
"Students commit crimes for a variety of reasons, the most common of which is that they are acting out of character. It's likely that the student will provide jurors with some background information, such as why he or she took the shoes and how they intend to spend the money,” according to Moore. “The goal is to get a complete picture of the student offender. We're looking for the root cause of the issue so that we can provide a real solution,” Moore stated.
Community service, apologies, essays, restitution, book reading and reflection, jury service and other forms of restitution are examples of possible sanctions.
For the sake of privacy, the hearing will be closed to the public. Moore, an administrator, a resource officer and jurors will only be involved in the case of the student offender's parents.