Youth courts were established in Philadelphia in 1998. While currently only a handful of schools implement the system, City Councilman Curtis J. Jones, Jr. of the Fourth District seeks expansion of this diversionary program through allocation of funds by City Council and support from Philadelphia’s bench and bar.
Many juveniles in the criminal justice system have a common background of broken homes, drug use and lack of education, which directly correlates to criminal conduct.
The youth court model is a system where students who admit wrongful conduct are judged by their peers, who determine an appropriate sentence for an infraction. The experience forces students to reflect on their behavior and also learn about the legal process. Students seeking to serve as a judge or jury member must participate in a training program.
By focusing on students’ infractions in school and making them take responsibility for their actions through judgment of their peers, a strong commitment to education is fostered and more students remain in school. Implementing a youth court costs about $8,000 for materials, training and room renovations. Although there is a cost for the youth court, such diversionary programs ultimately serve to reduce costs for funding our criminal justice system and our prison population.
Philadelphia Bar Reporter