I am sure you are dying to know what I have been up to, so let’s get into it….
This will be the end of my third week at Communities in Schools Chatham County and I have been busy. The staff has been wonderful and welcomed me right in. In order to get more acquainted with the different programs that CISCC offers, I have had the opportunity to be involved in each program, gain first hand experience, and understand the impact of the programs in the community.
I won’t describe each program but I wanted to share my experiences with the Juvenile Justice System while being at CISCC. As an intern I have had the opportunity to sit in on a couple of court sessions in which CIS programs have received several referrals to work with youth and their families in hopes of keeping them out of the Criminal Justice System as adults. Although each youth is referred for different reasons, each youth is given the opportunity to learn from the situation and how to make better decisions. While CISCC takes a holistic approach when working with students and families through their Mentoring, Family Advocacy, and Community Service and Restitution programs, they also provide a program called Teen Court, which I recently had the pleasure of witnessing.
SN: Click the Hyperlinked words to learn more about each program
Without going too in depth (because I want you to click the link), Teen Court is run by by teens for teens. It give youth who have admitted guilt to misdemeanor charges an opportunity to be involved in an intervention that redirects them away from formal processing in the juvenile justice system. There is an adult judge and bailiff, but there are student attorneys and a jury of the defendants peers. What makes Teen Court so special is that “as in traditional court, student attorneys present the facts of the case to the court, and the peer jury is responsible for rendering a constructive sentence that benefits the defendant and the community. Most sentences involve serving as a juror in future cases and community service, but can also include apology letters, counseling, mediation, essays, observation of District Court and educational seminars.” These sentences allow for the defendant to take responsibility for their actions, but instead of being throw into the criminal justice system, they are given the opportunity to learn from their mistakes through restorative justice. This approach, CIS feels, benefits both the youth and the community.
I was so excited to go to the most recent Teen Court date because I really wanted to see if this was everything it claimed to be, and it was. This was almost like going into a real courtroom just with teenagers running the show. The student attorneys were briefed on the case beforehand, had opening statements, a line of questioning, and a closing statement. When all that was done the jury deliberated and then came back to deliver the sentence. Lets just say I was IMPRESSED! While sitting there I began wondering, what if we took this approach in real courtrooms? What if we as a society took a look at our own policies and focused on sentences that benefited the individual and community? What if instead of locking away “criminals”, we focused on rehabilitation? What if?