On Friday July 24th, 2015 the Bay Area NPR-affiliate, KQED, reported on a local juvenile court that takes a unique user-oriented approach to justice.
Matthew Green’s report Inside Oakland’s Youth Court, Where Kids Call the Shots describes the Centerforce Youth Court, that takes on offenders who are juveniles with first-time misdemeanors. Most everyone working in the court are also juveniles — including the jurors judging the offender, the attorneys prosecuting and defending her, and the bailiffs and clerks ensuring the court operates correctly. The only non-juvenile is the judge.
The overarching goal of the program is to reduce recidivism, promote restorative justice, and reduce the mainstream court’s caseloads by redirecting these types of juvenile cases to this special design — which promote more community involvement and workshops.
This style of youth court exists throughout the US, with more than 1000 nationwide and some 120 in California.
What would other radically redesigned court systems look like — particularly ones that take the peer-to-peer model to heart? Could other specific types of cases be siphoned off the mainstream criminal/civil systems into courtrooms & organizations designed to be more community-oriented, rehabilitative, and understanding from the lay-person’s perspective?
On a recent evening, kids waited nervously in the hallway for their trials to begin. The court serves about 120 offenders each year, usually referred by police or school officials. To participate, offenders have to first confess to their crimes.
The docket was full that night – cases ranging from vandalism and minor drug possession to theft — as in the case of one shy young lady named Preva, who stole some makeup before a piano recital.
“Preva wanted this night to be perfect, every little thing, so she went to a store and stole some makeup,” Gabrielle Battle, a petite 13-year-old serving as Preva’s attorney, tells the jury.
“She was blinded by the idea of perfection and looking perfect for her big night. … I will prove to you, the jury, that Preva was just a young kid making a mistake, and she is sorry for what she did.”
Following opening statements, the jurors ask the defendant questions and then deliberate. Decisions are legally binding: If defendants complete the sentences, their records are closed, as if the crime never happened.
“At the end of the day, their record is closed to the public,” explains Angela Adams, the court’s program coordinator. “On some job applications, there’s a form where they check off the box, ‘Have you ever committed a crime?’ and they’re able to check the box that says ‘no.’ ”
“When you come here, you actually get to, like, go to workshops, do community service, do things that can actually give back to the community,” says Akili Moree, another feisty 13-year-old who joined the program voluntarily last year and works the courtroom like a mini Perry Mason. “And you can learn from your mistakes, instead of just receiving a punishment that you’ll really get nothing out of.”
For Michaela Wright, things ended much better than she expected. The jury gave her 12 hours of community service, three workshops and two jury duties. She plans to start college this fall, with a clean record.
Wright says she appreciates that the process wasn’t just focused on punishment, and wishes she could say the same for her parents, who were none too pleased about her arrest.
When asked if she got in trouble at home after her arrest, she simply replied:
“Oh, yeah … oh, yeah.”
Read the full story here at KQED’s site.