Youth Court: An intervention where peers decide appropriate punishment

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 1:04 p.m. MDT

From left, Kathleen Zeitlin, Program Director for Salt Lake Peer Court helps court volunteers Jasmine Sanders, 18, and Mary Jane Mortensen, 16, with a case at the Scott M. Matheson Court House in Salt Lake City Thursday, May 28, 2009.

Barton Glasser, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SANDY — It's considered one of the most successful juvenile programs in the state: Youth Court.

Organizers say it helps steer good kids away from a possibly bad direction. It could be considered an intervention, but it’s not an intervention where adults come in to judge them.

Every other Tuesday, a jury made up of school-age kids gathers in a Sandy courtroom and doles out punishment to other kids who've committed essentially petty crimes, such as vandalizing property, possession of alcohol or stealing.

"Youth Court is set up for those individuals, those kids who are first-time offenders,” said Sandy Police Lt. Justin Chapman. “They don't have a lengthy criminal history.”

The students "on trial" aren't really bad kids, "but (at) kind of a tipping point where they have that decision to make for the positive or negative,” he said.

A case the jury recently heard was the case of a 17-year-old who marked some graffiti underneath a bridge. He told his jury of peers he did it. Admission of guilt is required in this court. He also told them he could do better.

The parents have an opportunity to have input, too.

Then the jury decides what the punishment, or disposition as they call it, should be. It’s usually community service, or the offender may have to write an essay. In the case of the 17-year-old, it was a graffiti presentation in front of the Sandy City Council.

The offender will also have one of the youth court members assigned to them as a mentor. “So it’s not just what you get and we’re kicking you out the door, good luck,” Chapman said. “It’s, 'Hey, here’s another person who understands you, who’s willing to help you.'”

It's also an offense that stays off a child’s record.

Nick Pensari, a volunteer juror from Alta High School, said he wanted to go to law school. But perhaps more important, he wanted to be a mentor.

"I feel like kids my age get caught in binds, and I wanted to make it my job to help them out," Pensari said.

In the end, the criminal offenders get one shot at Youth Court. If they don't finish their community service, or they get in trouble again, they can find themselves in juvenile court, where the punishment can be a little tougher and the offense goes on their juvenile record.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS