Established in January 2003, Youth Court is a juvenile delinquency diversion and peer-justice program. A Virginia not-for-profit organization, Youth Court is devoted to restorative justice principles: We work to restore the damaged relationship between youthful offenders, their victims, families, and our community. Youth Court is dedicated to rehabilitating first-time offenders, holding young people accountable for their behavior, and educating youth about citizenship, the legal system, and constructive conflict resolution.
- Establishes and enforces Commonwealth-wide Youth Court rules and standards;
- Maximizes local District Youth Court efficiency and minimizes overhead by providing centralized administration, intake, and fundraising services;
- Recruits and trains all youth and adult volunteers;
- Secures and maintains stakeholder support for the Youth Court program; and
- Advocates public policy which invests youth in the prosperity of our community.
The goal of Youth Court is to use positive peer pressure to ensure that young people who have committed minor offenses repair the damage they cause to their victims and to our community and receive the help they need to avoid further confrontation with the justice system. Youth Court seeks to address youth crime in Virginia by working intensively with young people who have engaged in delinquent behavior, providing them with the tools they need to get on the right track and avoid further offending. Youth Court also engages in comprehensive prevention activities, reaching out to at-risk youth and providing them with the skills they need to make better life choices.
At local District Youth Courts, youth volunteers (ages 13-18) will prosecute, defend, and serve as jurors in sentencing hearings of juvenile (ages 17 and under) offenders. An adult judge volunteer will supervise the hearings and ensure adherence to the Youth Court Rules of Procedure. During intake, Youth Court staff will explain the Youth Court process to respondents (defendants) and their legal guardians, secure the respondents’ and guardians’ consent to Youth Court jurisdiction and sentencing, conduct initial assessments of respondents, and refer them to appropriate social service providers.
Youth Court will not impose custodial (jail) sentences or fines. Youth Court sentences span a wide range of restorative and rehabilitative measures, including: Written and oral apologies, restitution (paying the victim the value of the damage caused to the victim), educational workshops, essays, tutoring, counseling, drug and alcohol assessment, addiction treatment, curfew, mandatory school attendance, mediation, and community service–but not incarceration or the death penalty. Youth Court staff will work closely with respondents to ensure that they complete the sentences mandated by the youth juries. All sentences will include a component of future service as a Youth Court juror; this component will get at-risk kids to interact with the law in a positive manner, and will invest them in the success of our community.
Due to the heavy caseload faced by most juvenile courts, the low-level offenses to be handled by Youth Court typically result in neither punitive sanctions nor referrals to social services when adjudicated by the government. Through partnerships with local governments, participating Virginia judicial districts will refer youth who have admitted their guilt to Youth Court, where the respondents will appear before a true jury of their peers and learn that other kids disapprove of delinquent behavior. If the Virginia legislature passes the enabling statute authorizing local jurisdictions to implement the Youth Court program, satisfactory compliance with the sentences imposed by Youth Court youth juries within six months of sentencing will result in dismissal of the original charges. This will permit young offenders the opportunity to wipe their slates clean and avoid lives of career criminality by taking responsibility for their early misdeeds.
If a youth respondent fails to comply with the sentence imposed within six months of sentencing, or if he is convicted on a subsequent charge within six months of sentencing, he will be referred back to the juvenile court for a formal trial.
For those who serve as youth volunteers, Youth Court will function as an experiential civics class (at the school’s discretion, academic credit may be available for participating). Youth volunteers will receive 15 hours of pre-service training in Virginia criminal and delinquency law and the Youth Court Rules of Procedure. In addition, youth volunteers will participate in on-going, intensive development and team-building activities which will cultivate their leadership skills.
The Youth Court program is promoted by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, American Probation and Parole Association, American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the Public Service Center of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity, International.
More information on the Youth Court program is available from the National Association of Youth Courts.
Youth Court will hear cases three evenings a week. The Court will conduct up to three hearings each session, for an average of more than four hundred (400) cases each year. Compliance with Youth Court sanctions is expected to be solid; nationally, over ninety percent (90%) of Youth Court respondents complete their sanctions as ordered. We anticipate that Virginia Youth Court respondents will contribute over two thousand (2,000) hours of community service each year.