Twice a month, teenagers come to a Montgomery County, Pa., courtroom, where small dramas play out and lessons in fair play unfold, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Taking on the roles of bailiff and judge, prosecutor and defender, the teens debate the fate of whoever appears in Youth Court. The program, run by Judge John Durkin in Pottstown, Pa., serves as a disciplinary board for teens who have been picked up by the police for misdeeds such as criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, or shoplifting. To participate, the teen must admit he, or she, did wrong.
It is among 950 teen courts in operation across the nation, up from about 100 a decade ago. The concept has the backing of the U.S. Department of Justice – a reflection of juvenile justice’s need for low-cost, early-intervention techniques. Everyone – even parents called to the stand – seems to take the proceedings seriously. Since its startup in May 2001, about 375 youths cited by police in the Pottstown area have opted for Youth Court rather than face a fine in district court. As their sentences, the teens have helped out at local firehouses, baited hooks at the children’s fishing rodeo, shoveled snow for elderly neighbors, and helped a nonprofit agency move its offices, among other tasks.