Young people today face many challenges in their journey from young childhood through their teen years and into healthy adulthood. Teens face choices that affect their lives personally, academically, and socially; and unfortunately, this process often includes making mistakes. Sometimes young people make such poor choices that they are arrested and become enmeshed in the court system. First time juvenile offenders are often arrested for crimes such as petty theft and vandalism, and part of facing the consequences of their actions includes working with a probation officer, sometimes for many years.
However, in Ukiah these youth have an alternative: a program called Teen Peer Court. The program is based on a national model that has had great success in communities across the country. Teen Peer Court is offered to first time juvenile offenders who have been arrested for a nonviolent crime and are referred through the Department of Juvenile Probation. The court is made up of an adult judge with a youth jury. Youth also act as prosecutors and defense attorneys. Youth volunteering on Teen Peer Court learn about the concept of restorative justice, which helps reconnect young offenders to their peers and community. The Teen Peer Court process is intended to help youth, not merely punish them.
A youth who opts for the Teen Peer Court model has the opportunity to be tried by a court of their peers who then determines an appropriate consequence. If the youth defendant successfully fulfills his sentence, he has the opportunity to learn from his mistake, without receiving juvenile probation.
Teen Peer Court is seeking youth participants to serve as attorneys and jurors for youth offenders who are referred to the program. Youth who serve on Teen Peer Court can learn about the criminal justice system, restorative justice, conflict resolution, and social justice. By serving on the court, youth gain valuable life experiences that could help them pursue a career in law, law enforcement, social work, or counseling. Youth will also earn community service hours for their training time and for the time they spend preparing for and participating in court cases.
Teen Peer Court trainings are held at the Arbor on Main on Wednesdays. The cases referred to the court are tried at the Ukiah Courthouse on the first Wednesday of each month. This is an amazing opportunity to learn how the court system works and to help peers stay out of trouble. If you or someone you know may be interested in participating in Teen Peer Court, please call (707) 468-5536 for more information.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.