Teen Court saves money, helps teen, speaker tells Kiwanis

Feb. 22, 2014 @ 12:25 PM

At the Jan. 20 meeting of the Roxboro Kiwanis Club, local attorney Brent Groce spoke about the Teen Court program in Person County. 

Teen Court is an alternative system of restorative justice where first-time offenders are tried by their peers for misdemeanor offenses. Offenders admit guilt or responsibility and are held accountable for their actions. Student volunteers take the roles of clerks, bailiffs, attorneys and jurors.  Attorneys volunteer to serve as Teen Court judges, and Groce and Wells King are among those who do so locally.

Groce emphasized that this is a unique opportunity for offenders and volunteers to learn about the legal system, and it serves as a vehicle for positive peer pressure. Youth brought before Teen Court as offenders learn to accept responsibility for their actions, and they pay back the community through service and Teen Court duties. The program empowers youth to work on ways to reduce crime and violence in their schools and community.

It is a 4-H program operated through Cooperative Extension and the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, directed by April Duckworth in Person County.  Most of those served are under 16 unless the office of the district attorney otherwise consents.  A Teen Court disposition can result in no criminal or juvenile record, a significant benefit.

Juvenile Intake Court Counselors, court officials, law enforcement officers (including School Resource Officers), or school administrators may refer participants. 

If the juvenile does not have a prior record and is willing to admit responsibility for the offense, the case is accepted into the Teen Court program. An interview is scheduled with the juvenile and his/her parent or guardian. The parties sign an agreement to voluntarily participate, with the understanding that criminal charges will not be pursued if the juvenile successfully completes the Teen Court sentence. During the intake interview, rules and regulations for the program are discussed and a Teen Court appearance date is set. The participant is assured that all Teen Court proceedings will be held in strict confidence.

In the past two years, 132 local youth were served through the program, which saved an estimated $60,000 a year based on the District Court and personnel resources that would have been required to deal with these same offenders. 

Participants train for a Teen Court competition, and Person County  finished second in the state last year.  Awards available through the competition include scholarships funds.  Teen Court meets twice each month and attendance at multiple sessions is required as part of sentencing for offenders. 

In response to a question, Groce indicated that the recidivism rate for program participants is about 30 percent, which is less than the percentage of repeat offenders processed through the General Court of Justice.  A repeat offense requires referral to Juvenile Justice system and generally results in more severe punishment.  In closing, Groce re-emphasized that peer pressure is a key to the success of the program.