Teen Court looks and feels like regular court. The hearings even take place in The Judicial Building, in courtrooms where during the day real court cases take place. But there are important differences. Kids referred to the program, first, must admit guilt of their offense. To refer to a previous post, this does not mean the same as admitting regret or remorse. A commitment to growth is, though, required of referrals.
The student and his/her parents then participate in what is called an Intake. The Intake’s purpose primarily is to inform the family of the requirements for successful completion of the program. Agreements, consent forms, etc. are signed in this meeting, but overall the intake’s goal is imparting, and motivating, the family about the aims of restorative justice.
The trial afterwards requires students to testify in front of a jury of their peers. Adults, if you think back on your teenage years, you know how dreadful this would have felt. And yet, as much as they dread it, or probably because of that, these kids experience a catharsis for having gone through their hearing. They emerge from the courtroom buoyed already by having met that challenge.
Once the testimony concludes, the jury retires to an actual deliberation room where, with the guidance of an adult jury monitor, they discuss the appropriate level of sanctions to recommend given the facts of the case. They must work within prescribed ranges of community service hours that they may assign and within a range of future Teen Court juries that they may recommend that the respondent serve on. In some cases the jury may assign supplemental sanctions, such as educational seminars, research projects or essays, letters of apology, etc. The judge ultimately approves all recommended sanctions.
With the exception of the judge, who may be a practicing attorney, or herself an actual judge in the district, all of the roles in the proceedings are performed by teens: defense attorneys, prosecutors, jurors, clerks, bailiffs. Adult volunteers and Vantage Pointe employees facilitate the hearings, but student volunteers carry out the key roles. Adults are responsible to hold the students accountable not only for proper procedure but also for proper behavior, which includes appropriate attire.
Once the hearing is completed, Community Service and Restitution takes over to work with the family on helping the student complete their assigned community service hours. Vantage Pointe, then, keeps track of the youth’s progress about which they continually update the referring agent–usually the youth’s school resource officer.
When the sanctions have been completed, the child is terminated from the program and their charge is dropped. They may then get on with their lives as though the offense never happened. They may get on with pursuing with no further apprehension the future they’d once sought.