In Maryland, and across the nation, youth violence is on the rise. One of the best ways to reduce teen violence is by diverting today’s juvenile offenders before they become tomorrow’s hardened criminals. Youth diversion programs have proven effective in helping the youth-at-risk population, and one of the most successful is Teen Court. In Maryland, Teen Courts have successfully diverted over 6,500 juvenile offenders from the path of hardened crime in the last 10 years.
To advance this success, Alison L. Asti, President of MSBA, has launched a statewide initiative this year to help Maryland’s youth-at-risk population by expanding teen courts into all jurisdictions in Maryland. Teen Court is one of the most effective early-intervention, delinquency-prevention programs now available. “This early-intervention program currently offers first-time juvenile offenders an alternative to the juvenile justice system in 10 Maryland jurisdictions,” asserts MSBA’s President. “Teen Courts help steer juvenile offenders in the right direction.”
To highlight Teen Court’s positive impact on youth-at-risk, MSBA is dedicating its 2008 Law Day Conference to Teen Court. The day-long event, to be held on April 21 at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center, will focus on the thrust of Asti’s youth-at-risk initiative, Teen Court expansion. The Conference will assemble law-related stakeholders, citizens and young people interested in addressing juvenile delinquency issues in their communities by establishing Teen Courts. Asti wants to better serve Maryland’s youth-at risk population by developing these successful youth diversions programs in every county.
Teen Court is an effective youth-diversion program that works with juveniles between the ages of 11 and 17 who are charged with a non-violent, non-threatening crime. Teen Court intervenes, processes the misdemeanor offense and quickly issues punishment to hold the juvenile accountable for his or her actions. Juvenile offenders are tried by a court of their peers with a district court judge presiding and must satisfy the sanctions issued by their peers to have the charges waived and avoid a juvenile record.
Last fall, Asti created a special MSBA “Youth-At-Risk” Committee, co-chaired by Susan Leviton and Dawna Cobb, to oversee the expansion of Teen Court in Maryland. Working with MSBA’s Citizenship Law-Related Education Program in Maryland Schools (CLREP), this Committee has led MSBA’s effort to expand Teen Court and divert juvenile offenders from a life of crime. Under the President’s leadership, Teen Court is evolving from a more localized approach into a statewide, unified undertaking geared to support first-time juvenile offenders who are truly youth-at-risk.
On April 21, MSBA’s Public Awareness Committee, in conjunction with its Youth-At-Risk Committee and CLREP, will present “Teen Court: A Success Story for At-Risk Youth,” the Association’s Law Day 2008 program. At this lawyer/student/teacher conference, existing adult and youth Teen Court teams will work with teams of high school teachers and students and volunteer lawyers and judges to initiate Teen Courts in their jurisdictions. The volunteers will engage in training, recruitment and technical sessions to hone the skills they will need to launch Teen Courts and steer troubled juveniles in their counties in the right direction.
MSBA’s Law Day Conference is designed to give participants the knowledge, methodologies and materials to initiate a Teen Court. Attendees will view a DVD of an actual Teen Court hearing then watch the enactment of a live mock trial hearing in action, with young people from the audience serving as the peer jurors. The Honorable Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, will deliver the keynote address.
Throughout the day, attendees will participate in structured discussions facilitated by volunteer lawyers and judges, veteran teen court volunteers, court personnel and community resource experts. “These concurrent sessions will focus on restorative justice, understanding the juvenile justice system, starting a teen court and using teen court for traffic offenses,” reports Cobb. They will highlight the nuts and bolts of starting teen courts, trial procedures and youth perspectives and firsthand Teen Court experiences. An interactive question-and-answer session will also be held to foster further discussion.
MSBA hopes that this conference will encourage teachers, students and lawyers to work together to initiate a Teen Court in counties where one does not currently exist. “We want to help make kids part of the solution rather than the problem,” emphasizes Ellery “Rick” Miller, CLREP Executive Director. Through its Law Day program, MSBA will provide the education, training and guidance to support jurisdictions in their quest to launch Teen Courts and help young offenders.