Last weekend my son and I spent the morning at Pima County Teen Court. Bodhi was a volunteer and served as a juror. He loved it. We will go back. And I will probably start volunteering as a "judge" presiding over the process.
A parent/son volunteer organization called boys team charity hooked us up with Teen Court. If you and your middle school/high school aged son are looking for something to do together, check them out. Previously we have volunteered with the Southern Arizona Food Bank and JAWS, a tremendous Pima County program where kids who have spinal cord injuries compete in wheelchair sports from rugby to basketball. Each experience has been very valuable, and Pima County Teen Court deserves some more recognition.
From Teen Court's materials:
Teen Court is a diversion program where a defendant is judged by a jury of his or her peers. All of the participants in the courtroom are teens, except for the judge. Minors who participate in Teen Court have been arrested, admitted guilt, and have chosen to be sentenced in Teen Court instead of going through the Pima County Juvenile Court system. The teens are represented by trained attorneys, also teenagers, who present their case to the jury for sentencing.
An outstanding feature is that teens must complete the sentence selected by their peers. The sentences are designed to be constructive rather than punitive. Each sentence includes mandatory features - at least one letter of apology; jury duty; and Basic Training, which is a family education workshop in basic communication skills, responsible decision-making, accountability, and juvenile law. Other workshops and activities can also be assigned by the jury. These might include substance abuse prevention, anger management, goal-setting, or the effects of shoplifting.
Teen defendants must also participate in a Wellness Screening and, as required, are assigned drug treatment and counseling to be completed as part of their Teen Court sentence.
Since it's inception in 1995, Teen Court has conducted over 7,500 cases. Teens who participate in this diversion process are about 33% less likely to offend again. This is a stand out program that is just off the radar. I was surprised to learn that even as the non-profit program run through the Pima County Partnership reduces the load on the juvenile justice system, it receives no state or local funding. That is unfortunate and seems unfair. The program diverts many defendants, and saves the county resources in the process. And the county shares none of those savings to keep the program going.
If you would like to learn more or volunteer at teen court, check out their website here. It's a very worthwhile place to volunteer your time.