Lafayette Courier-Journal

Alternate Reality: Teens Run Court for Peers

by Dylan Peers McCoy, July 4, 2015

… Held in a small room dominated by an imposing wood desk in the Tippecanoe County Courthouse, teen court is a lot like any other hearing — there are jurors, lawyers and defendants. But in this alternate reality, they are all younger than 18.

… Jeffrey Butts, director of research at the City University of New York College of Criminal Justice, studied the impact of teen courts extensively. Butts believes their primary effect comes from the teens’ experience in the courtroom, rather than their sentence. In his view, the most successful programs are the ones in which teens manage the courtroom, treating the process with professionalism and seriousness.

“When you’re a 15-year-old or a 14-year-old shoplifter and you walk into this courtroom and you see teenagers up on the bench, there’s a teenager who’s the attorney for you, and the prosecutor is the same age and the court bailiff, and they all take it very seriously, there’s no goofing around … it encourages them to kind of own the process, ” he said. “They are probably getting the message that laws and civilization are basically for all of us, and it’s not something adults do to young people.”

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