PRINCETON – The Bureau County Teen Court (BCTC) program is on the hunt for young individuals interested in trying on the shoes of a juror.
The program gives teens an opportunity to learn more about the justice system and help determine restorative justice for fellow youth offenders.
When offenders commit a first-time offense, they can choose to undergo the teen court alternative rather than be put into the criminal justice system.
BCTC is designed to provide a meaningful and remedial method of dealing with selected juvenile offenders.
BCTC coordinator Kris Ferrari said teens who participate as offenders get a chance to “right their wrongs” and learn to make better decisions for themselves in the future.
“They avoid the juvenile justice system,” she said.
Teens who participate as a jury panel member get a view of the legislature in process.
“Participation as a juror looks great on a job resume, but even better on a college entrance questionnaire. Jury members will meet and perhaps become friends with other youth from all over Bureau County.” she said. “Juror members also learn to feel comfortable in voicing their opinions, as all members work together for the common foods of the program.”
In Bureau County, the teen court follows a model where the offending youth is held accountable for their decision verses a parent paying a fine for an offense committed by their minor child.
In court, the teen jurors question the defendant directly; there are no attorneys present; and cases are presented by the BCTC coordinator or an adult volunteer moderator.
When a teen sits in the jury seat, they hear a police officer read the charges of the offender and summarize the facts of the case. A moderator states the possible sentence if the offense was committed by an adult. The teen jury panel then questions the young offender before leaving the room to deliberate an appropriate punishment.
The teen court can only impose a sentence such as community service, restitution, apology, research paper, prevention, education program, attendance at classes or counseling sessions. The jury panel cannot sentence any youth to a detention facility or jail.
The BCTC program began in 2003, after then-Circuit Clerk Mike Miroux made the proposal to the Bureau County Board.
For those interested in joining the program, youth have to be Bureau County residents between the ages of 13 and 18, be enrolled in an area school or be home-schooled and must not have had any previous trouble with law enforcement officials.
Teen court meets on the second Wednesday of the month. If a youth is called to sit on the jury panel and is unable to make it because of prior engagements, such as a volleyball game, track practice or play try-outs, they need to call their coordinator so another youth can be found to fill the spot. They will be called again once their schedule opens back up.
“Today’s youth are very busy, but we work with them so that they are all able to participate in the program” Ferrari said.
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