ELIZABETHTOWN — The verdict is in, and Teen Court has been proven effective.
“Things are going extremely well with Teen Court,” said Johnice Autry, with the Bladen County Cooperative Extension 4-H program, which oversees Teen Court.
Teen Court, an alternative to the conventional justice system, is designed for first-time offenders. The program gives youths ages 12 to 18 who are charged with misdemeanors an opportunity for a clean record after they complete their sentence. The Court meets every month to hear cases, many of which, Autry said, result from fighting at school or possession of marijuana.
“These are good kids,” she said, “and they get the chance for a clean record. That’s one of the benefits to the students who have been charged.”
The benefits, however, don’t stop there. Autry said it’s a win-win-win for for all parties. The courts and the taxpayers reap the benefits of a lessened burden on the already strained justice system, and the teens who take the role of attorneys and other court officials gain valuable skills as well.
“They’re learning public speaking and how the justice system works,” explained Autry. “It’s a wonderful educational tool for them.”
The students serving on Teen Court do not have to determine guilt or innocence, as the defendants must admit guilt prior to participating. In order to alleviate the possibility of repercussions at school, charges are categorized according to severity, and a range of possible sentences for each category are provided to student volunteers.
“It doesn’t matter who is in the seat, they have to pick a sentence within that range, so there’s no retaliation by the defendant,” explained Autry.
Students from East Bladen, West Bladen, and Paul R. Brown Leadership Academy currently serve on Teen Court, usually hearing two or three cases each month.
Teen Court is funded by the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council through the Department of Juvenile Delinquency and Prevention. Assistant District Attorney Quinton McGee serves as advisor to the Court, and Aaron Cox serves as judge.
For additional information on Bladen County Teen Court, call 910-862-4591 or visit the Cooperative Extension office.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.