Southern California’s Pass Area Youth Court reaches out to teenagers who may be headed down the wrong path, says the Riverside Press-Enterprise. The intervention program, intended to give juvenile offenders a second chance, has tried about 50 cases. Nearly all of the defendants have completed the program, which includes community service hours in which they return to court to serve as jurors. “You really feel like you’re making an impact,” said Beaumont police Detective Liam Doyle, who oversees the program that started last June.
Proceedings are held at night, usually once a month. Just about everyone involved volunteers their time. “I could be doing something else, but I believe in it,” Doyle said. “We had a problem in the Pass area — juvenile offenders cycling through the system,” he said. “There was no accountability.” The court is for middle and high school students who have been arrested for such minor offenses as shoplifting, fighting, possession of marijuana, ditching school, or breaking curfew. They must be first-time offenders. The jury, defense attorney, and prosecutor are teenagers. The judge is a professional and the court is real in terms of the verdicts rendered and sentences handed down. There are three levels of punishment, each of which requires the defendant to complete community service. The teenagers also must serve as jurors in the youth court and write apology letters and essays describing their life plans. The program is voluntary; the defendants must agree to participate. They are told that their choice is youth court or the more traditional justice system.