Teens rule this courtroomPublished 8:40pm Saturday, October 20, 2012
More than 100 teenagers crowded in the district court room with District Judge Bob Armstrong Monday night. But not because they were in trouble. They were there to learn and also to make a difference in their community for the Teen Court program as it kicks off its third year.
Students from area middle and high schools were selected and asked to come to Monday night’s training session, which teaches students how to be jurors in Teen Court cases. Teen Court is a program that partners with the school systems to crack down on truancy cases and other small issues.
“We used to have so many juvenile cases that we needed things like this to divert some of the shoplifting cases,” Armstrong said. “But our juvenile numbers are down so much — like 66 percent — that we use this primarily for truancy cases. Truancy is a gateway for everything so it has been a great fit.”
Armstrong said truancy is gateway into other trouble for teens, but the reason he feels Teen Court is so effective is because students are judged in front of their peers, something Armstrong said those on trial can’t stand.
“The kids absolutely hate being judged by their peers, they can’t stand it,” Armstrong said.
Lorraine Capers, the coordinator for Teen Court and driving force behind the program, agreed with how much students do not like being judged by their peers.
“They do not like it because sometimes the kids judge harsher than we would,” she said.
The students who go through the Teen Court program do not develop a juvenile record because as Capers explained, “the students get called into here for early prevention. They do not have a probation officer, they do not have a record, we just handle it here.”
The court meets once a month to settle cases and most punishments include a $25 fee, 25 hours of community service, a written report on why tardiness is detrimental to education and a letter of apology to any person wronged.