Teen Court works well, deserves support

By Observer editorial April 02, 2010 02:02 pm
Crime is like a cancer. It needs to caught early — before it has a chance to spread. Teen Court does just that.

The youth peer court was founded 10 years ago and is an important part of the official local justice system. Teen Court has run like clockwork except for a brief time when funding was cut, but the Union County Board of Commissioners wisely reexamined the program and decided it was worth reviving.

When it comes to expanding educational opportunities, and unique ones at that, Teen Court comes through, big time. Teen Court provides a bit of character education — teaching right from wrong — at the same time. Offenders are tried and judged by their peers. This empowers youth more than having some adult wagging their finger at them and scolding them to watch their p’s and q’s. Middle school and high school students serve as clerks, bailiffs, attorneys and jurors. In these roles, students learn important leadership skills. The jurors also learn team-building skills, such as acting as a group, rationally deliberating over cases ranging from assault to vandalism and learning consensus building. The youths not only get good experience in implementing justice, they also get practice overcoming a fear of public speaking.

The defendants in Teen Court cases learn they will be held accountable for their actions. In a best case scenario, the defendants acknowledge their errors, apologize, serve their sentences and avoid similar actions in the future. Some kids tried in court even come back to act as attorneys.

Few come back to be tried again. There is little recidivism. That shows the effectiveness of Teen Court and its innovative sentencing, often to community service and sometimes to serve as Teen Court jurors.

Public agencies and a host of volunteers help keep Teen Court functioning today. Local attorneys — the real McCoy — donate their time as judges. Teen Court Coordinator Ben Morgan, meanwhile, has poured his heart and soul into recruiting volunteers, scheduling court sessions and doing myriad other tasks that make the court run like the well-oiled machine it is today. Thanks to Teen Court, the local justice system is stronger and more effective.