On Wednesday, February 15th, 36 students will graduate from the Alliance for Safe Kids’ (ASK) Youth Court program. After having learned about the various aspects of the law over the last six weeks, they will soon take on real-life court cases prosecuting juvenile offenders who have been found guilty of misdemeanors or violations.
“The Youth Court program enables students to experience first-hand what it is like to be an attorney, detective, Judge, Bailiff, and Court Officer,” reports Nancy Levin, Director of Youth Court. “This incredible program is a careful collaboration of so many vital members of our community. The Social Workers at the local high schools, local attorneys, police, and even our esteemed Town Justices all work together to teach the incoming Youth Court class everything there is to know about the Criminal Justice System.”
“As the one of the two Judges of the Yorktown Court, ASK has shown me how amazing a community action group can be,” added Judge Salvatore Lagonia. “The Youth Court has now become an integral party of the ASK / Justice Court collaboration and we are blessed to welcome the great students each year into our hall of justice, where they are trained and exposed to the real legal system.”
Youth Court, founded in 2007, is a program based on a national program developed by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Youth Court is a voluntary alternative to Family Court and the criminal justice system with a goal to steer teens who have committed crimes like disorderly conduct, trespassing, or petty larceny in the right direction at an early age. The Westchester County Department of Probation and the Yorktown Police Department work in collaboration to decide which local cases would be best suited for the Youth Court graduates to deal with.
The program offers these youth offenders an opportunity to assume responsibility for their actions; it also promotes a desire for self-improvement, fosters a healthy understanding of and attitude toward rules and authority, and provides a chance to learn about the justice system. Youth Court also offers parents and the community a constructive and positive means to hold youthful offenders accountable for problem behaviors, including behavior that previously may have received little or no attention from the criminal justice system, or when corrective responses by parents, guardians, or the community have had little or no impact.
Youth Court members range in age from 13 to 19. They complete a comprehensive training program overseen by professionals in the field, including police officers, social workers, members of the District Attorney’s office, and other sectors of the legal community. It concludes with a mock trial and bar exam to ensure that the members have achieved the necessary knowledge and confidence to fulfill their roles.
Youth Court will begin to accept applications for the 2017-2018 session in the fall. For more information, visit www.allianceforsafekids.org.