Local teens start peer court programThe 15-year-old was caught smoking at East Ridge High School. It was not the St. Paul Park teen’s first encounter with law enforcement, but police hope the youth’s participation in a new program will make that the last run-in.
By: Scott Wente, Woodbury Bulletin
The 15-year-old was caught smoking at East Ridge High School.
It was not the St. Paul Park teen’s first encounter with law enforcement, but police hope the youth’s participation in a new program will make that the last run-in.
The teen may be among the first group of area youths to participate in a peer court program, an alternative to the juvenile court system. A jury of teens will determine an offender’s consequences in an expedited process that is less confrontational and intimidating than traditional court proceedings.
The program is a collaboration between the Woodbury Public Safety Department and East Ridge High School, but involves students from around Washington County.
Youth court – also called peer court or teen court – practices the restorative justice philosophy. Offenders learn of the harm done by their actions, are taught skills to improve their behavior and see their peers and others involved in their consequences. Supporters claim juveniles who go through the alternative program are less likely to re-offend.
“This is a restorative process,” said Jean Hancock, East Ridge’s police liaison officer and a youth court coordinator. “It’s not punitive. It’s not just about punishment.”
The St. Paul Park teen’s case is unusual for a youth court program.
Typically, someone with a police record would not qualify for peer court, but this youth appeared remorseful and took initiative to contact law enforcement when offered to go through youth court rather than being referred to juvenile court, Hancock said.
Most youth court cases will be of teens without rap sheets who commit minor offenses or violate school policies -- youth who get caught for first-time underage alcohol or smoking offenses or get tagged for shoplifting. Others may be habitually tardy from school or have misbehaved on the school bus.
“A lot of these kids honestly don’t know this is not OK,” Hancock said of some school misbehavior, such as waving a lighter around on a school bus, as one student recently did. “Well, they’re going to learn through this process.”
Youths are referred to the program by law enforcement or school officials and must admit to the offense in order to take part. If they complete the program successfully, the offense does not show up on a juvenile record that later could be accessed by employers or colleges
Hancock and fellow Woodbury police Sgt. Neil Bauer both have experience in restorative justice. They decided to launch the youth court program when Hancock got the East Ridge liaison assignment this year.
For more on this story see the Wednesday, Oct. 21 print edition of the Woodbury Bulletin