Teen Court seeking new panel members
So far in 2014, Lincoln County Teen Court has heard six cases, has three additional cases scheduled and had 28 active panel members serve on cases.
Teen Courts are specialized diversion programs for young offenders. The youth referred to Lincoln County’s Teen Court can be 12 to 16 years old, in trouble with the police for the first time, and probably charged with a non-violent offense. Teen courts offer these youth an alternative to the regular juvenile court process. Rather than going to juvenile court and risking formal prosecution and possible adjudication, a young offender can go through teen court and avoid what might have been the first stain on his or her legal record.
In return, however, a young person in teen court is almost certain to get a rather stiff sentence. Many are required to do community service, write apology letters to their parent(s) and the victim of their offense, and perhaps an essay about the effects of crime on the community. Often, they must attend an educational training class that is pertinent to his/her offense. Teen court sanctions are designed to do more than simply punish the offender. They encourage young offenders to restore at least part of the damages their behavior caused to the community or to specific victims. The primary function of Teen Court is to determine a fair and restorative sentence or disposition for the youth respondent.
Teen Court has already had an effect on the youth it has served. In a survey sent to the young offenders and their parents, some of the results were very encouraging. Of those youthful offenders that have successfully completed their Lincoln County Teen Court Sanctions, only one has been cited with citations after the initial citation that went to Teen Court. One of the youthful offender became a panel member and all of the youth respondents self-reported that their experience with teen court has helped them become more responsible adolescents and that their experience with teen court has helped them make more thoughtful decisions regarding their action with 75% of those respondents’ parents agreeing with their child. Half of the youth respondents reported that their experience with teen court has increased their communication with their parents and 75% of the respondents’ parents self-reported that their experience with teen court has increased their communication with their child. Half of the youth respondents and parents self-reported that their experience with teen court has made the youth more selective of their friends.
Not only does this have a huge effect on the youth offenders but Teen Court can be helpful to the youth that are trained to be panel member. Young people from 6th through 12th grade must have passing grades in all classes, have parental consent, and keep a clean record with no suspensions from school to serve as a Teen Court Panel Member. These youth are given two days of training before they begin serving on the teen court panel. In addition to trainings the youth who serve as panel members are asked to serve on panels when it fits their schedule – usually on Saturday mornings; observe a code of confidentiality and willingly serve on the panel member team. They learn skills in a variety of areas: questioning, restorative justice, empathetic listening and speaking. They also have time to learn why Teen Court works and determine many of the rules they must follow. Ninety-one percent of the Panel members who returned surveys reported that due to their participation in Teen Court their ability to resolve conflicts has improved and 82% reported that their level of participation in community organizations or activities has increased. And 63% of panel members reported that Teen Court helped them be more selective of friends they spend time with. Of the Panel members who returned surveys, 82% reported that they have a higher respect for court personnel and a better opinion of the justice system. Seventy-three percent report having a higher opinion of police officers. Eighty-two percent reported improvement in their problem-solving capabilities and 91% in their public speaking ability. Young people who would like to serve as a Teen Court Panel Member are asked to complete the online application (found at http://lincoln.uwex.edu/4-h-youth-development/lincoln-county-teen-court/panel-membership/); print and complete the application (found at http://lincoln.uwex.edu/4-h-youth-development/lincoln-county-teen-court/panel-membership/) or call 715-539-1072 and ask for an application to be sent to them and return forms to: UW-Extension – Teen Court, 801 N. Sales St., Suite 101, Merrill, WI 54452.
Teen Courts are effective because of many reasons. As reported by parents of youthful offenders, this program uses positive peer pressure to hold the youthful offender accountable. It seemed to have greater power over the youth because they are asked to answer to their peers. Sanctions given are restorative in nature and help the youth restore the relationships that may have been damaged or gives the youth a greater sense of being valued in the community. This program focuses on educating the respondent to make better decision in the future. It allows them to keep their record clean and feel they can still be part of the community. The youth respondent and the panel members are around the same age and from the same school making the program very real to holding them accountable to their peers. Panel members are trained to ask open-ended, non-confrontational, probing questions to gain trust, make the youth think and to get to the heart of the problem so they can identify the key issue and address it and not just punish the crime.