Teen Court gets $5,000 startup grant from Attorney General

August 29, 2003

Madison County Youth Court will soon start a Teen Court program in which juvenile offenders will be judged by their peers.

A $5,000 grant from the Mississippi Attorney General's Office will help the program get started. Special Assistant Attorney General Patricia B. Marshall is scheduled to present a check to Madison County Judge Cynthia Brewer at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, in Brewer's second floor office at the Madison County Circuit Court Building at 128 West North Street in Canton.

Brewer hopes to have the program ready to begin hearing cases by the end of the year.

Teen court programs in other areas allow juvenile offenders to be held accountable by a court of their peers. Youths serve as the jury. Brewer said she will seek participation from students in Madison County public schools.

Brewer said, "The objective that we are seeking is to provide peer pressure on the teen that has gotten into trouble and to discourage further delinquency. Everybody learns from that, not just the teen that's in trouble."

Success of teen courts in other areas is measured in low recidivism rates. Brewer said,

"Recidivism in these other states that have Teen Court has been just tiny - 10 to 15 percent."

Brewer said Teen Court may be offered for juveniles facing allegations such as petty shoplifting, disorderly conduct which does not involve weapons, assault by threat, alcohol and tobacco possession violations and curfew violations. The offenses must be non-violent.

Sanctions could include community service, research papers, stricter curfews, written apologies to victims or, in the case of incidents occurring at school, apologies to school officials. Teens whose cases are presented in Teen Court may be required to serve later as jurors.

Brewer will seek participation from local agencies which can supervise youthful offenders in community service.

Juveniles who abide by the terms imposed by the Teen Court will have their records wiped clean. A Teen Court participant who gets into trouble again as a juvenile may face having the original case reopened and adjudicated with the sanctions available to the Youth Court.

Brewer will supervise Teen Court.

"My role will be to sit on the sidelines and make sure no one's rights and privileges are violated through Teen Court. They will be adjudicated under my hand," Brewer said.

The Youth Court prosecutor would make referrals to the program. Parents or guardians would have to approve a child's participation in the program.

Youth Court proceedings and records are not open to the public. Teen Court proceedings and records also will be closed to the public. But actions handled in Teen Court will be known by the teens who participate as jurors and in other roles.

Brewer said that in some cases, total confidentiality "offers a shelter and they feel that shelter is protecting them, so they can continue to get away with it." Brewer said removing the curtain of confidentiality can have a positive effect through peer pressure. Peers whom an offender sought to impress will be "thinking you are not so cool," she said.

The startup grant is a Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grant provided through the state Division of Public Safety Planning with a 10 percent match from the Attorney General's office, Marshall said.