When Fayette County youths run afoul of the law, they soon may find themselves at the mercy of their peers.
Though it’s a different method of meting out justice, a new structure called Youth Court offers an alternative that just might work.
It accomplishes a variety of things. First, it diverts some first-time offenders from the normal court process – thus reducing traffic in that crowded system. It also injects a sense of accountability when youthful offenders come face to face with their peers in the legal process. And finally, it gives those volunteering for the program an inside view of the workings of our legal system.
Probation Officer Dallas Gray said the idea surfaced during a recent meeting of officials involved in the court system. Since it’s been tried in several nearby counties, many of the meeting participants were familiar with it, and were supportive of trying it here. The first group of volunteers is now undergoing training.
Youth Court, Gray said, is a diversion program that allows youths from 14-17 years old to serve in the roles of attorneys, court officials and jurors. The special court will be convened once per month, and it will try three to four cases each session. All proceedings will be under the supervision of either a judge or the probation officer.
Gray, who has observed Youth Court proceedings in Marion County, noted that the youthful juries often hand down harsher sentences than those given in a regular court setting.
As long as the system is used judiciously and has adequate supervision, it’s an idea worth trying. It’s certainly a novel way for young people to exert some positive influence on some of their peers who have made less-than-stellar decisions.