The Los Angeles Times reports that teen courts in California are taking on new subjects: bullying and hate crimes. More than 70 high schools in California operate teen court programs, including 18 in Los Angeles. For two decades now, trained high school students have questioned their peers, determined guilt and recommended sentences. One of the founders, L.A. County Superior Court Assistant Presiding Judge David S. Wesley, said a special program was necessary for the growing problem of bullying and bias among students.
“It’s about minors being confronted about what they did by their peers,” Wesley said. “It’s so powerful when peers tell you what you’re doing is wrong, rather than adults.” He said he began to notice increasing reports of bullying and hate incidents about five years ago. Teen court cases typically involve relatively minor charges — such as vandalism, petty theft or battery — by first-time offenders who are seen as good candidates to straighten out through early action. In Los Angeles, cases usually are referred to the program by the district attorney and Probation Department. The hearings are most often held on school campuses, although Wesley holds the hate crime and bullying cases in an imposing, wood-paneled courtroom in downtown Los Angeles to underscore the seriousness of the acts.