I don’t like Teen Court or Youth Court.
I typically don’t focus on the negative. I’ve discussed this enough and had enough experiences that my opinion is formed. I can blog and say I don’t like them. I will tell you why.
In Wisconsin, when a juvenile is processed in the FORMAL circuit court process, there is NO jury portion. Is it LEGAL then for a “peer jury” to decide an outcome in a teen court/youth court model?
In youth court the offender is not an “active participant” in the outcome. As I understand it the jury hears from each side, leaves and returns with a plan. I don’t think that works. What works is doing something WITH someone, not TO them or FOR them.
The requirement that once in teen court, then you serve on the jury. That pre=prescribed outcome is not taking in account the individual involved. No matter what you did, who you are, once in, you serve on the jury.
I don’t get WHY we would teach kids to imitate a system that doesn’t work. I say it doesn’t work because of how many people go to prison and come back home ONLY to go to prison again. Read the PEW report! One in 100 adults in prison! AND going to prison MAKES YOU WORSE.
Teen Court as a YOUTH DEVELOPMENT MODEL – okay you want to teach skills. Teach youth how to talk to each other. Use a Circle of a Conference to give them skills in communication. Teach youth about EQUALITY, RESPECT, INCLUSIVENESS. What do we learn in Youth/Teen Court, those with the titles make the decision? How to act like a defender of the victim, a promoter of the offender.
When you do a teen court – that’s the only process you have. When you use Restorative Justice – you’ve got good in the preparations, speaking about healing and accountability. Restorative Justice options involve conferences, circles, panels.
Sure, it’s great we are ‘diverting’ cases from the formal system. BUT what are we REALLY teaching our youth in Teen/Youth Courts? Why can’t we just divert them with Restorative Justice?
There is the element of victims that don’t want to participate. That’s a reality. And it’s the job of the restorative justice practitioner or advocate to work on that element.
I explained my concerns about Teen Court to a ‘Restorative Justice’ program that was doing this. I don’t see or think teen/youth court is restorative. The response: “We had to call it that so the Cops would refer to it”. That is an example of not being willing to address the bigger system. That’s feeding into the notion that punishment works. That is not restorative.
Restorative Justice is about HARMS, NEEDS, OBLIGATION & ENGAGEMENT. It’s inclusive models, that focus on ‘making things right’ and repairing the harm. See Zehr’s signposts for more!
I believe as practitioners and advocates we need to speak out to not only our processes but about community harms, needs, obligations and engagement. I’m engaging in a debate about TEEN/YOUTH COURTS. I don’t doubt good stuff can happen, I think GREAT stuff happens in RJ.
–down from the soapbox