Community Resources

A Positive Alternative
DOROTHY BROWN

CLERK OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY

WHAT IS A YOUTH PEER JURY?

 The Youth Peer Jury program is an innovative alternative used to divert nonviolent first time youth offenders from formal court action. Operating on the philosophy that it is better to prevent crime than punish it, police youth officers have a community service option as an alternative to processing formal charges. They can take a more positive approach in challenging teen offenders to be held accountable for their actions. Additionally, offenders can avoid formal court convictions by choosing to participate in a teen court process and agreeing to comply with a sentence imposed by a jury of their peers.

 Youth Peer Jury programs are designed by and for communities to fit their own needs and are run by local volunteers with local police departments.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Prior to appearing before the Youth Peer Jury, the defendant, and a parent or guardian must agree to a statement of guilt. Retired or Juvenile Court judges may preside over the hearings. A local police youth officer reads the charges. A panel of teenage jurors, usually six, discusses the charges with the offender. The panel then deliberates on an appropriate community service punishment, based on the severity of the charges and the attitude of the offender.

Completion of the sentence is monitored by an adult coordinator of the program. At the "discharge hearing," the jury reviews the case and discusses the experience with the offender. Many times, ex-offenders who successfully complete their assignments continue to volunteer in public service and are recommended as possible peer jurors.

WHAT IS THE MAKE UP OF A MODEL JURY?

A goal of the program is to choose student volunteers from the community who represent diverse backgrounds and different age groups. Jurors must be mature and trustworthy. Once selected, jurors participate in a training program designed to give them a background in juvenile law and teach them communication skills. They learn how to ask appropriate questions, disseminate information, arrive at appropriate solutions and maintain strict confidentiality about the defendants.

WHAT ARE EXAMPLES OF THE CRIMES HEARD THROUGH PEER JURY PROGRAMS & SENTENCES GIVEN TO OFFENDERS?

 Misdemeanors usually are heard by youth peer juries. Typical cases include retail theft, criminal trespassing, criminal damage to property, etc.

The constructive sentence must fit the crime! Frequently offenders are assigned community service work (typically ranging from eight to fifty hours), and must complete essays on a subject related to the offense, and/or letters of apology. For example, a charge of victimizing an elderly person might result in an assignment at a nursing home with  a report on the effects of aging. "911" offenders or fire-setters might be assigned to work in a waiting room at a hospital emergency room. Often, spending time with anxious families, or in an interview with a paramedic leaves a lasting impression on an offender.

Community involvement is essential to the success of the Youth Peer Jury  Program. Police departments, private businesses, government agencies, and local organizations must work together to develop a diverse selection of community service tasks which are available as assignments to youth offenders. These assignments should meet the needs and reflect the local resources of the community.

ARE PEER JURIES AN EFFECTIVE WAY TO COMBAT JUVENILE CRIME?  YES!

Communities that have established peer juries find the programs to be very innovative. The rate of non- repeaters is extremely low and operating costs are minimal. The village of Hoffman Estates, for example, has a 95% rate of non-repeat offenders, with an annual operating budget of $100.

for additional information to set up or participate
in a youth peer jury in your community, contact:

Dorothy Brown
Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County
Richard J. Daley Center
Chicago, IL 60602
Youth Peer Jury Program
312 /603-4732