By Andrew L. Campbell, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP
Last year, a teenager was arrested with paint on his hands that matched the color of freshly painted graffiti on a nearby church. As the teen made his way through the traditional juvenile justice system, his family explained that they were having difficulty communicating with the teen and that there had been fights and bouts of depression. The statistics showed that the likelihood of recidivism was nearly 40 percent.
Fortunately, the teen was diverted from the traditional juvenile justice system to Reach for Youth’s Teen Court, an alternative program where the teen’s peers served as legal counsel and members of the jury. A local attorney presided over a hearing, during which the teen offered his story, and his family and members of the church that he vandalized also spoke. After some pointed questioning, the jury began to understand, better than most adults, the teen’s motivations.
He was nevertheless held to account: 24 hours of community service, 16 hours of restitution toward removing the paint, a written apology to the church, and service to the church’s youth program. The teen was also ordered to attend a workshop on conflict management and serve three sessions on a Teen Court jury. Since the hearing, there have been no further incidents and, though his jury appointed service is done, he continues to volunteer with the church youth program. As a participant in Teen Court, the statistics say that the likelihood of recidivism was cut by nearly 25 percent.
As the recipient of the 2012 Impact Fund grant of $35,000 from the Indianapolis Bar Foundation, Reach for Youth expanded its successful Teen Court program to include an in-school Teen Court project aimed at halting disruptive behavior before it escalates to criminal activity requiring expulsion. Decatur Middle School, Warren Central High School, and Stony Brook Middle School were among the first participants.
“In a very short amount of time, these schools have witnessed a true culture shift,” reports Reach for Youth’s President and CEO, Michelle Study-Campbell. “By holding students accountable to a jury of their true peers, not simply adult disciplinarians, and imposing constructive rather than simply punitive sentences, the result has been a marked shift in the attitudes of student-participants toward their school community.”
As a result, teachers have reported decreased classroom interruptions, improved behavior, and rising grade points. The students, both participants and offenders, are learning about public service and giving back to their fellow students.
The Foundation’s support has allowed Teen Court to support a part-time social worker to coordinate the in-school project. As a result, Teen Court will continue in Decatur and Warren Townships, and will expand to Irvington Prep Charter School, Bell East Middle School, and Lawrence Township in the coming months. Teen Court is always recruiting attorney-volunteers to serve as judges, and more information can be found online at www.yourteencourt.org.
Through April 1, 2013, the Indianapolis Bar Foundation will be accepting grant applications for its 2013 Impact Fund Grant of $35,000. The Impact Grant will be awarded to a non-profit organization, like Reach for Youth, that seeks to advance the administration of justice and an understanding of the law through philanthropy, education, and service. More information about the Indianapolis Bar Foundation and its grant making can be found online at www.indybar.org/about/bar-foundation/.•