Teen Court is a program designed to offer non-violent first-time juvenile offenders the opportunity to be judged by a jury of their peers, accept responsibility for their actions, and make restitution for their offenses.
In the spring of 1996, Volunteers for Youth Justice began Teen Court, a voluntary diversion option for first-time, non-violent juvenile offenders. Teen Court offers teenagers who have committed a first offense the opportunity to accept accountability for their actions by submitting to the judgments of their own peer group.
Teen defendants are given sentences designed to provide constructive and educational consequences, increase social skills, develop critical thinking skills, and build competency. The majority of sentences consist of varying amounts of community service, participation in educational workshops, and completion of terms as a volunteer juror. Participants are allowed eight weeks to complete their sentences after which time their initial charge is recommended for dismissal. An important aspect of the defendant’s sentence is the requirement to serve as a juror for future cases, providing the invaluable role reversal of defending the law. With the exception of the judge, a role filled by a volunteer attorney, teens fill all the roles of the traditional court personnel, including bailiff, clerk of Court, defense and prosecuting attorneys, and jurors. The proceedings are held in the courtrooms of The Juvenile Court for Caddo Parish.
VYJ Teen Courts involve a large number of youth and adult volunteers. The adults supervise teen juries, advise teen attorneys, and meet with defendants and their families to advise them about fulfilling their sentences, while the teen volunteers fill the various roles in the court process. Both the teens and adults serve as role models for youth defendants, demonstrating the community’s involvement.
The positive outcomes of this program are many. The staff and hundreds of volunteers take immense pride in the program and youth court participants develop an impressive knowledge of the legal system. However, of greater significance is the impact made on the lives of children in crisis. Caddo’s Teen Court has consistently demonstrated a recidivism rate of less than 5% – an indication that 95% of Teen Court defendants who successfully completed their sentences avoided further court involvement.
View our Teen Court Video at: http://youtu.be/rVXL89uGjZY
TEEN COURT VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR
Avery Morrison was selected as the 2015 Teen Court Volunteer of the Year for his dedication to the program over the last year. Avery was consistently present at the Teen Court sessions and took a leadership role in corresponding with fellow attorneys. Often he assisted the Teen Court Coordinator with set-up for Teen Court and stayed to help with clean-up afterwards. Avery was recognized for going above and beyond his volunteer role on Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at the Teen Court Volunteer Appreciation Dinner.
Many may think that there is nothing unique about this story but what’s so great about it is that Avery was once a participant in a Volunteers for Youth Justice Diversion Program (Bossier Power of Choice). He decided to make some changes in his life and began volunteering with Teen Court where he forged a special bond with Kayla Anderson, Teen Court Coordinator, whom he credits for helping him make better choices. Avery graduated from Haughton High School on Saturday, May 16th and plans to attend Tulane University in New Orleans in the fall and major in biology. His future goal is to become an anesthesiologist.