950 Youth Courts Use Positive Peer Pressure


At New York City’s Harlem Youth Court, neighborhood teenagers act as judge, jury, and lawyers at trials of peers, says the Christian Science Monitor. It is not playacting. The participants hear real cases of teen defendants referred by the police or school administrators, and mete out sentences that include community service, anger management classes, and tutoring. “It turns peer pressure on its head,” says Greg Berman of the Center for Court Innovation, the nonprofit organization that runs the court. “We typically think of peer pressure as a force that leads our kids astray, but here we’ve created a coterie of kids that are pushing their peers in a positive, law-abiding direction.”

Youth or teen courts have experienced a growth spurt. More than 950 courts operate across the country, up from 78 in 1993. The U.S. Department of Justice has allocated over $3 million in the past five years to support the National Youth Court Center, which provides training, technical assistance, and resource materials to youth courts around the country. There are no consequences for Harlem defendants who don’t show up for their community service, tutoring, or other “sanctions.” Yet the percentage who do is extraordinarily high: 100 percent in the past quarter, and above 80 percent as a general rule. Berman says this shows that the defendants take the process seriously: “If you ask any family court judge, they’d be jumping up and down if they got that kind of compliance rate.”

Link: http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1221/p14s01-legn.html

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