On Wednesday, February 10th, 28 students will graduate from the Alliance for Safe Kids’ 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 other teens at the Yorktown Justice Court.
“After many sessions of training in confidentiality, public speaking, documentary review, and case assessment, the Youth Court students take a Bar Exam and then are sworn in as members of the Youth Court,” reports Nancy Levin, Director of Youth Court. “Just seeing them devote time and effort to learning something new and interesting and watching them develop into young attorneys right before my eyes.”
Graduates of Youth Court serve in the roles of Judge, Prosecutor, Defense Attorney, Jury, Clerk, and Bailiff for juvenile offenders who have been found guilty of misdemeanors or violations. The legal and binding procedure determines a fair and restorative sentence in the form of community service hours for the offender.
“I was the defense attorney in one particular case, and after sentencing, I was personally thanked by the offender and her parents,” shares Youth Court Intern, Matthew Corrado. “Seeing the sincere appreciation in her eyes showed me exactly why I choose to serve my community. Every experience that Youth Court provides has been truly gratifying.”
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 2016-2017 session in the fall.