Around the state, jails are overcrowded, courts have been shut down, and kids are getting lost in the shuffle. Nearly ninety thousand (86,823) juveniles were arrested in 2014 in California alone. Just shy of 80 percent of those arrests were for misdemeanors or status offenses (crimes only applicable to juveniles, such as truancy and curfew violations). As just one of hundreds being pushed through the courts daily, each child is not given the individual attention or support he or she needs.
That’s where Teen Court comes in. By casting trained, volunteer teenagers in the roles of attorneys and jurors, the program allows first-time juvenile defendants accused of misdemeanors to be represented and judged by the people who understand them best. Jurors ask a wide range of questions of the defendant as well as his/her parents, allowing them to get a complete picture of the person. The sentences exclude confinement or fines and are directed to rehabilitate rather than to punish. They range from a letter of apology to community service to counseling. If the sentence is carried out within six months, the defendants avoid a stain on their record.
This is great for everyone. People with convictions have a harder time getting admission to college and securing jobs and housing. Not only does Teen Court prevent those first-offense convictions from appearing on a student’s record, but studies have shown that Teen Court-style programs can help keep them out of trouble in the future.
While beneficial, Teen Court often lacks support from schools that can’t provide staff or classrooms; some schools are short on volunteers to guide the process. This is why the Beverly Hills Bar Association’s Barristers have made it their mission this year to partner with Teen Courts around LA County. With plans to donate volunteers and resources, the Barristers’ partnership with Teen Court will help many dozens of students change their lives for the better.
We need your help! Volunteers make sure all court sessions proceed as intended. Volunteers can be attorneys, judicial officers, or even law students. All volunteers must attend a training session, which will take place on January 28, 2016. Currently we have planned to work most closely with the program at Santa Monica High School, and we are adding more schools all the time. Program schedules will be added to the calendar.
If you would like more information or to volunteer, please call the BHBA at (310) 601-BHBA (2422) or email Barristers President Wil Wenzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.