Teen court new county initiative

Sunday, August 19, 2007
The new Teen Court initiative planners work on the new program. Discussing their philosophy are (from left) Samantha Richardson from juvenile program, Sheila Penturf, Renee Marsteller from juvenile probation, Judge Matthew Headley and Linda Merkel from the Youth Development Commission.

The Putnam County Youth Development Commission, with the support of the office of Judge Matt Headley and the Juvenile Probation Department, announces "Teen Court," a new initiative for Putnam County teens.

The Putnam County Teen Court offers first time offenders, 9-17 years of age, and the community another option in dealing with juvenile crime.

The Teen Court Program is predicated on a philosophy of constructive sentencing for juvenile offenders, accountability to the community for unlawful behavior and personal acceptance of responsibility for delinquent conduct. Beyond the resulting benefits for juvenile respondents and the community, Teen Court provides education, training, and "hands-on" participation in the justice system for Putnam County middle and high school student volunteers. In addition, the experience compliments the students formal education in government, promotes respect for the rule of the law, and provides exposure to the responsibility of citizenship.

The program is designed primarily to serve first time offenders who have pled guilty to certain offenses. Juvenile Probation Officers offer Teen Court to offenders, who fit the aforementioned criteria, as a diversionary alternative to traditional juvenile sanctions. If an offender voluntarily elects to participate in Teen Court, only aggravating and mitigating circumstances are considered for his/her disposition, (similar to sentencing if adult). Dispositions normally include a combination of community service, restitution, apologies to victims, essays, and future service as a Teen Court juror. Successful completion of a disposition within ninety days under supervision of the Teen Court Coordinator results in the dismissal of any formal charges regarding that particular offense.

The primary focus of Teen Court is a juvenile offender's choice to come before adolescent peers in a courtroom manned by juvenile "attorney's, clerks, bailiffs and jury." The Judge of Teen Court is the only adult involved in the trial process. Student volunteers periodically are recruited from area middle and high schools that are permitted to choose the roles they wish to portray in Teen Court. Volunteers are required to attend an orientation and training session prior to participating in an actual court proceeding. Judge Headley will be conducting adult volunteer training.

All volunteers are required to sign an oath of confidentiality wherein they swear not to divulge any information gained in the Teen Court proceedings. Teen Court procedure is very similar to traditional courtroom protocol, except the respondent is allowed to make a statement on his/her own behalf and can be questioned by members of the jury.

Teen Court policy dictates that if a respondent receives any disposition from the jury, the respondent must serve on at least two future Teen Court juries. It is hoped that jury service restores self-esteem in former respondents, returns them psychologically to the positive side of the law and reinforces their concept of accountability to the community.

Positive peer pressure can have a powerful impact on juveniles. Putnam County Teen Court goals are to see reduction in the recidivism rate of juvenile crimes and help adolescents learn to take greater responsibility for their behavior with a better understanding of consequences for negative behaviors.

To learn more about this valuable program, we invite you to attend an informational meeting scheduled for Monday, Aug. 27 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Community Room of the Area 30 Career Center located at One N. Calbert Way in Greencastle. Call Linda Merkel at the Putnam County Youth Development Office at 653-9342 with questions or to inquire how to become a volunteer.

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