BY LYNNE BEXELL
The Tri-City Youth Court was established in 2015. The court is primarily administered by School Resource Officer Tracy Preece and Lorrie Frazier from North Ogden Police Department. They have been instrumental in the success of the program. The cities of North Ogden, Pleasant View, and Harrisville participate in the court program with referrals coming from parents, schools, or police departments.
This court program offers an opportunity to empower communities to fight against juvenile delinquency, provide youth with opportunities to learn about and participate in their communities in a positive fashion, help hold youth accountable for their actions, give back to their community what has been lost, and build skills so they will not be involved in further acts of delinquency in the future.
Youth Court provides an alternative to the juvenile justice system or further school review for appropriate juvenile offenders. It is a diversion program that keeps the offending youth from having a permanent juvenile court record, while holding the youth accountable for their conduct before a court of their peers. The court provides discipline for youth that includes an element of positive peer pressure not available in any other juvenile diversion program. Youth offenders find out that not only adults in society find their conduct objectionable, but that their peers also do not approve. They find that their peers care about them and want them to succeed and build skills to avoid this type of behavior in the future.
High-school-age youth are trained to act as judges, attorneys, clerks, and bailiffs in actual criminal cases. The process does not determine guilt but takes youth who admit their mistakes and provides appropriate consequences to promptly hold them accountable for their actions.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF YOUTH COURT?
• Youth develop an understanding and respect for the law through classroom instruction and the practical application of administering justice.
• Youth offenders receive no permanent juvenile court record. A report is held in juvenile court diversion records for approximately one year, then it is destroyed.
• Law enforcement and school officials have a strong new option for handling violations.
• Youth Court reduces the volume of minor cases burdening the Juvenile Court, freeing it up to focus on more serious offenders and offenses.
• It provides leadership opportunities for youth. Victims and the community receive valuable service and swift redress for wrongs by youth performing community service in your community.
One of the youth volunteers said: “Youth Court is something that is special about the community. Not only does it give second chances to youth in the area, but it also helps the community as a whole through the community service it assigns, and the growth of the youth – both the youth on the court and the ones hearing from their peers.”
The youth who volunteer to serve on the Tri-City Youth Court receive school credit, enjoy the association with the other volunteers, and have the opportunity to attend training at the Utah State Youth Court Conference each year.
A parent who has had first-hand experience said: “As a parent, you don’t ever foresee or want a child of yours to have to go through any type of hard challenges in life such as Youth Court. When it was brought to our attention that our child was charged and may possibly have to go through juvenile court, we were blind-sided and shocked that they were participants. When Youth Court was brought up as an option, we were satisfied with that versus the alternative. We were not familiar with the Youth Court process and what it entailed leading up to the court date.
As my wife and I sat next to our child, listening to the type of questions, responses, and events that transpired (though all accurate and not new information to us), it was still very difficult as parents to hear. Our child stood on their own as they answered questions and explained what happened to the youth panel. The youth panel was very clear, concise, and to the point with every question. We felt that they listened with intent to try to understand what happened. My amazing wife went through the same type of experience with the panel as well.
After all the questions and information were brought before the Youth Court, they deliberated to come up with our child’s plan for their actions. We believe they were fair requirements to meet.
The Youth Court disposition is not something we wish upon others to have to experience; however, it is a great format to give kids who make mistakes a chance to get a glimpse of what road they could be heading down if they continue to make bad decisions.”
The youth who take time out of their busy schedules to assist with the Tri-City Youth Court ensure a successful program that would not exist without their participation. They are professional and caring in seeing out their duties on the court. The community is proud of these young people and the way they represent their schools.