Shasta County Youth/Peer Court

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Purpose

The Shasta County Youth/Peer Court was created as a program of the Youth Violence Prevention Council in October 2003, to provide a means by which first time juvenile offenders could be diverted from the traditional juvenile justice system into a program which practices restorative, rather than punitive justice.   By agreeing to participate in the program, the offenders, called respondents,  have the opportunity to  have their cases heard before a jury of their peers.  If the respondent successfully completes his or her sentence and does not reoffend while in the program, the record for that offense is cleared.    As the name implies, the peer jurors and attorneys in Youth/Peer Court are youths between the ages of  12-18 from middle and high schools throughout Shasta County.  

Youth/Peer Court also provides an opportunity for a broad segment of middle and high school aged students throughout the county to learn about the rights and responsibilities of individuals in our legal system.   This helps students to make more informed choices in the way they conduct their personal lives.  Through volunteering as jurors, jury forepersons, and student attorneys, they are able to help offending youths, (called respondents) by deciding on a variety of sanctions that are available as part of the sentence.   They hold the respondents accountable for their actions, provide classes and other sanctions to help the respondents develop some competencies, so that they will be less likely to reoffend in the future.  This empowers youth and teaches them valuable skills while they in turn help other youth. 

There are over 1300 youth courts nationally in 49 states and the District of Columbia.  Youth courts have shown statistically to reduce the percentage of youths recidivating by half of that of the more traditional juvenile justice systems.  Youth courts are the fastest growing juvenile intervention programs in the nation, and divert first time offenders out of the formal juvenile criminal justice systems.

The Shasta County Youth/Peer Court has over 100 student volunteers in the program each year and sixty or more adult volunteers.  Court is generally held once a week in the evenings from 6:00-8:00 p.m. in Redding, and once a month in Anderson.  See the court calendar for a listing of court dates and locations.

Mission

The mission of the Shasta County Youth/Peer Court is to create a program that incorporates a balanced approach to youth justice stressing accountability, competency development, and community protection rather than punishment.  We call this approach restorative justice. Rather than concentrating specifically on the crime or offense, restorative justice focuses on the victim(s), the offender, and the need to restore the damage that occured through accountability and competency development, which ultimately leads to a safer community.

 Accountability refers to the need for offenders to make amends to victims for the losses caused by their actions.  In addition, our program has an awareness component that educates youth on the impact their actions have on their victims and the community.

 Competency Development emphasizes the need for offenders leaving our program to have the skills necessary to become productive members of our society and to carry over and apply what they have learned when confronted with difficult choices and situations in their futures. Education is the key component to this. 
 
 Community Protection refers to the right of the public to be safe and secure.  This is accomplished through sharing responsibilities with the juvenile justice system, the community, the youth, and the family to keep a watchful eye on the offenders and assist in their reintegration back into the community.

Court Structure

Judges:

The Shasta County Youth/Peer Court uses adult judges from the federal and county courts who volunteer their time to oversee the court proceedings.  The sentences are decided by the jury, however, the judges review those decisions to ensure they are appropriate for the offense and for the respondent.

Attorneys:

Student attorneys work in pairs as a Prosecution Team or a Defense Team, and are coached by adult attorneys from the community who volunteer their time to mentor the students and then observe them in court in order to provide constructive feedback to the students. 

Jurors:

The jury is comprised of students from both middle and high schools from ages 11-18.  Training is held 3-4 times each year to teach students about the court system and about the various roles they can hold in the court.  The jury is a combination of volunteer youth jurors and respondents who are required as part of their sentence to come back and serve on the jury.   This gives the respondent jurors an opportunity to help other youth by assisting in the jury process and helping to create  appropriate and meaningful sanctions for other respondents.  Jury Forepersons are chosen to preside over the jury deliberation process, and this teaches youth valuable leadership and communication skills.

The Youth/Peer Court does not determine guilt or innocence, since one of the requirements for a youth to appear in front of the court is a confession of guilt and taking responsibility for one’s actions.  The jury’s job, therefore, is to assign a disposition that will benefit both the respondent and the community.  The types of offenses that appear in the court are theft, vandalism, drug and alcohol offenses, assault and battery, cyber-related crimes and school based offences. 

Respondents are referred to the Youth/Peer Court by the Shasta County Probation Department’s Juvenile Assessment Center and by the School Resource Officers or administrators of various high school and middle school campuses in the county.

The range of dispositions are:  apologies, essays, educational classes, counseling, community service, juvenile court work days, jury service, and restitution.  Educational classes that are available include: Youth Educational Shoplifting program, Drug and Alcohol, Anger Management, Victim Impact, ATOD Alcohol Tobbaco and Other Drugs class, Life Skills, and Choices for Life Coroner’s Tour.

The consequence for respondents that do not complete their Youth/Court dispositions satisfactorily or reoffend while in the program is to be referred back to the Juvenile Probation Department or the school that referred them to be processed through the juvenile justice system for their original crime or offense.

Attorney Trials and Master Juries

We have two types of court trials:  Attorney Trials and Master Juries.  During an attorney trial, the respondent is appointed a pair of youth defense attorneys.  A pair of prosecution attorneys is also appointed to the case.  Both teams of attorneys are given copies of the police report, copies of any pertinent evidence, and access to witnesses.  Each team is coached by an adult attorney who guides them through the court process.   The defense attorneys also meet or talk to the respondent prior to the trial in order to discuss the case.  Each set of attorneys are responsible for opening statements, closing arguments, and the questioning of the respondent and any witnesses.  They are allowed to make objections and enter any relevant material into evidence.  After their presentation, they hand the case over to the jury to decide the sentence.

In the Master Juries, the jurors read the police reports, ask both prepared and spontaneous questions of the respondent, and make the final decisions about sentencing.   There are no attorneys in the master jury process. For a schedule of trials and master juries, please refer to the Youth/Peer Court calendar found on the website.

All Court proceedings are open to the public.   Attendees are advised to keep the names and details of what they hear in court confidential.   We encourage you to attend a master jury or trial if you are interested in finding out more information.