committed non-violent misdemeanors. They must accept responsibility for the offense, and submit to questioning by teen jurors, who come up with appropriate remedies.
Experienced jurors role-played a typical Teen Court proceeding at the training session, to show how the process works. One young man posed as the offender, who had committed criminal trespass and possession of a marijuana cigarette. Other jurors peppered him with questions to try to get the details behind the offense:
“How long have you been smoking marijuana?” “Did your parents know?” “How did your siblings react when they heard?” “What are your grades like?”
The group then discussed possible remedies aimed at achieving the three goals of restorative justice – holding the teen accountable, helping him repair the harm he did to victims and determining what he needs to be a more productive member of the community.
Some of the common remedies include requiring teens to write an essays or letters of apology to victims, doing community service and making visits to a special YMCA program called Teen Strong, which emphasizes healthy living and smart alternatives to self- destructive behavior.
When offenders have completed their remedies, they come back to the court for a ceremony celebrating their new start.
After the mock hearing at the training session, the veteran teen jurors described the impact of their service on the court.
“It’s been one of the best experiences of my life,” says Ethan Martin, a Mascoutah High School junior who has served on the court for three years. “I plan on going into the Marines, and hopefully getting into the JAG program (judge advocate general, or the legal branch of the military).”
Jody King, a junior at Belleville West High School, says her experience with Teen Court has helped her gain confidence that has paid off in other public speaking activities such as the debate team. “It’s allowed me to embody being a leader.”
Olivia Underwood, a junior at Althoff Catholic High School, agreed. “I’m a pretty shy person, and through this program, I found my voice,” she says.
After losing state funding, the program is now supported by the St. Clair County Teen Court Foundation, which accepts donations.
To donate, mail contributions to the Teen Court Foundation of St. Clair County, 12 S. 2nd St., Belleville, IL 62220-2016. Donations are tax-deductible.