The judge of juvenile court said Teen Courts can help reduce juvenile crime.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Teen-agers accused of minor crimes would get a trial by a jury of their peers under a Teen Court being considered by city, school and Mahoning County court officials.
City council and the city school board agreed Thursday to form a committee to begin work on the model that would have teen-agers in the roles of prosecutor, defense attorney, bailiff and jury.
Judge Theresa Dellick of Mahoning County Juvenile Court said similar Teen Courts across the country have helped keep first-time youth offenders from returning to crime.
"This is meant to turn them around," she said during a joint meeting of council's education committee and the school board's government committee.
Showing support: Board and council members threw their strong support behind the concept.
"We have lost so many kids because we don't understand why they do what they do, but their peers do," Councilman James E. Fortune Sr. said.
Councilman John Swierz approached Dellick with the idea in March. Dellick said she thinks it would take at least a year to set up the model.
Under the plan, first-time juvenile offenders accused of minor crimes such as shoplifting, menacing, criminal damaging, simple assaults and curfew violations would be given the choice to enter Teen Court.
Dellick said Mahoning County Juvenile Court handles about 2,500 such cases annually, with about two-thirds of them involving city youth.
How it would work: In Teen Court, youths would face a minitrial with peers ages 13 to 17 involved throughout the process. A jury of teen-agers would listen to arguments from both sides and ultimately hand down a sentence, which could range from a letter of apology to the victim to community service.
Dellick said Teen Court can reduce the juvenile crime rate, allows teen-agers to learn about the judicial system and provides early intervention for first-time offenders.
She cited Knox County, Ill., as an example. Between September 1995 and February 2000, 391 of the 525 defendants who went through the Knox County Teen Court successfully completed their sentences. Of the 391, only 33 were arrested for another offense.
Swierz said the first step in setting up the court is finding a sponsoring organization.
Demolition issue: Meanwhile, the school board found it will have to wait at least a few more months before the long-vacant Washington Elementary School on the city's West Side can be demolished.
Swierz told board members that it will cost an estimated $257,000 to remove asbestos from the school. The city has set aside $125,000 in community development funds for the demolition.
Swierz said council will try to find more money, but Fortune said that won't happen until next year at the earliest.
Ben McGee, schools superintendent, urged council to move fast because the cost of asbestos removal will only increase as time passes.
"The fact that city council to the person is committed to the Washington School project is a step in the right direction," Swierz said.
Council and the board also set Nov. 21 as the date for the city's next Government Day.