By Carolyn Clay Hall, Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP
Some kids shoplift. Some get caught.
According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), roughly 2 million kids were caught shoplifting in the past five years.
Roger was one of them.
Roger is not his real name, but his story is all too real and all too common.
At 17, on the cusp of being tried as an adult, Roger was given a choice: become another criminal statistic and likely, according to NASP statistics, a repeat offender, or take a different approach: be tried by a jury, truly of his peers.
This is Teen Court, a program offered by Reach for Youth, a local nonprofit with more than 40 years of experience helping kids like Roger find a better way.
Teen Court was also the Indianapolis Bar Foundation’s 2012 Impact Fund Grant recipient.
Each year, Teen Court reaches out to more than 600 youth and their families through multiple intervention and diversion programs, including an in-school Teen Court model in which teens are trained by local attorneys to learn how to be prosecuting and defense attorneys for their peers. In 2012, Reach for Youth was able to grow this model with the help of the IBF’s Impact Fund Grant.
During Teen Court sessions, students present the facts of the case to a jury of fellow students as well as the participating adults, including a volunteer attorney, who serves as a judge.
In exchange for clearing the shoplifting charge from his criminal record, Roger agreed to participate in Reach for Youth’s Teen Court program, but his peers didn’t let him off easy: His sentence included eight hours of community service, a shoplifting workshop, a written apology to the store from which he shoplifted, a verbal, in-court apology to his family, and two nights serving jury duty on the same Teen Court that convicted him.
Not only did Roger successfully compete his sentence, he stayed on for extra credit: he became a Teen Court volunteer, helping to decide sentences for similar teens in danger of becoming just another crime statistic.
According to Reach for Youth, Teen Court has proven to be a successful tool in crime prevention efforts, maintaining a lower recidivism rate than those offenders who are charged and sentenced through the traditional juvenile justice system. Teen Court also provides a leadership opportunity for youth interested in law and government.
With the Teen Court in-school program, teachers have reported decreased classroom interruptions and improved behavior and grades.
Roger is an example of the success of Teen Court, and Teen Court is an example of the success of the IBF’s Impact Fund Grant. If you are interested in volunteering for Teen Court, please email [email protected].•