New Castle News

Closer Look

June 8, 2013

Youth courts could nip problems in the bud

CNHI — While there have been major changes in the juvenile justice system in the wake of the “Kids-for-Cash” scandal, some advocates believe Pennsylvania has failed to widely embrace efforts to fully focus on rehabilitating troubled young people.

Once of the more innovative efforts in Pennsylvania involves the use of youth courts, in which young people themselves mete out justice for their peers.

Every role in court is taken by a student: judge, bailiff, defense attorney and jury.

The jurors question the accused and then come up with a recommendation for restorative justice.

Gregg Voltz has overseen the development of youth courts based in schools in Chester and Philadelphia. In those settings, the youth courts principally deal with violations of school rules — things such as skipping school or mouthing off to teachers.

In other places, the youth court model is integrated right into the juvenile court system.

Voltz said that youth court won’t work in all cases. There must be a separate juvenile court process to handle serious crimes.

But many of the minor infractions that first land young people in trouble can be better handled by youth court. It’s important because there is ample evidence that the way Pennsylvania’s courts deals with first-time offenders does not work, Voltz said.

A new study by the Juvenile Court Judges Commission found that 20 percent of juveniles who were involved in a case in 2007 were later arrested for another crime. The study found that family life played a significant role in the outcome. Eighty percent of the young people who continued to break the law after their first arrest were from homes in which the parents were divorced, one or more parent was dead or the parents had never married.

There have been several studies that have examined the effectiveness of youth court as a part of the traditional juvenile court system. In all cases, researchers determined that it appeared youth courts were working.

But Voltz said that one of the fundamental weaknesses in the juvenile justice system is that it essentially criminalizes behavior that years ago would have been dealt with by parents. The youth courts work by providing a better way of helping young people adjust their behavior, he said.

“We’re supposed to be educating kids, trying to teach them to be decent, functioning people.”

Three years ago, as lawmakers were scrambling to make sense of how to reform juvenile justice in Pennsylvania, Voltz and two Chester High School students traveled to Harrisburg.

One of those students, Jamar Sanders, described how youth court kept him out of a criminal gang and prompted him to refocus his energies to save his grades.

“At the end of my freshman year, I had a 1.4 GPA, not good. Now at the end of my junior year, I have a 3.9 GPA,” Sanders said in his testimony. “Without youth court, I would probably still be roaming streets, still in ninth grade hanging out with the wrong crowd and not thinking about my future.”

After the testimony, impressed lawmakers asked Voltz to draft model legislation spelling out how youth courts could be rolled out across Pennsylvania.

Working with University of Pennsylvania students, Voltz gathered youth court legislation from across the nation to cull the best ideas to use in Pennsylvania. Their work completed, they provided the proposed bill to two senators.

And then nothing but waiting.

“Making something happen to change is difficult,” Voltz said.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Closer Look
  • tv04.jpg New Castle director, writer, producer filming zombie pilot locally

    The horror genre holds a special fascination for Tom Stoops. He has been a devotee of that film style since he was young. So it makes perfect sense that as a director, executive producer, writer and actor, zombies would show up in his latest project.

    April 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • money.jpg Neshannock trail to be integrated regionally

    Construction of a downtown section of the Neshannock Creek Trail is expected to commence this summer. Lawrence County planning director Amy McKinney briefed the county commissioners yesterday on a 1,400-mile trails project initiated by Power of 32.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Shale royalty meeting for landowners planned

    Lawrence County residents who have questions about royalties on gas drilling leases are invited to a meeting tomorrow.

    April 23, 2014

  • Townships to pave roads

    Youngblood Paving Inc. was awarded a contract for this year’s road maintenance in North Beaver and Little Beaver townships.

    April 23, 2014

  • oneill.tiff Union principal receives award

    Union Area School District’s elementary principal will receive the 2014 Distinguished Female Educator Award. The award from the Tri-State Area School Study Council is to be presented April 24 to Linda J. O’Neill during the 12th annual Dr. Jean Winsand International Institute for Women in School Leadership at the Edgewood Country Club in Penn Hills.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Good to grow: Library to offer seed lending program

    Patrons of the New Castle Public Library will soon have another service to look forward to. For newcomers to gardening and seasoned pros, the library is having — for the first time — a seed lending program.

    April 22, 2014

  • Knives prompt reporting of school violence

    On a typical day last year, Pennsylvania schools caught 11 students toting weapons. They were knives, similar to ones used to slash 21 students and a security guard at a Pittsburgh-area high school, according to the state Department of Education.

    April 22, 2014

  • Ferannte.tiff Upholstery shop showcases music, talent

    Following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Jim Ferrante is working to improve his community.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local pastor helping fire victims

    A local pastor is opening up donation avenues to help two families who lost their homes to fire this week.

    April 18, 2014

  • First Energy to replace transmission line

    FirstEnergy Corp. has plans to rebuild a power transmission line between the West Pittsburg plant and a Mahoningtown substation.

    April 18, 2014

House Ads
Seasonal Content
Section Teases
Must Read
Continuous Super Bowl Coverage