Youths could be judged by peers

By Peter H. Milliken

The proposed youth court harnesses peer pressure for positive behavior.

YOUNGSTOWN — Mahoning County’s juvenile court judge seeks to develop a youth court, in which justice will be dispensed to some young, low-level misdemeanor offenders by their peers.

In conjunction with that, Judge Theresa Dellick seeks adult and student volunteers willing to commit some of their time to assist the youth court.

To discuss the idea, Judge Dellick and Tony Budak of Hubbard, local coordinator of Time Bank of the Mahoning Watershed, have announced a public meeting set for 1 p.m. Saturday in St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 614 Parmalee Ave.

“We’ve been interested in teen courts for years ... This is not a program put on solely by the court. This is a community program,” said Judge Dellick.

She believes the youth court, which will rely heavily on volunteers, will not require an increase in the court’s budget.

“We’re talking about teens here being involved and participating in the solution of creating civil relationships within their communities, of being role models to their peers,” said Budak.

“People need to understand they have the power to create a better world. They have the power to deal with juvenile delinquency, with drug abuse and with the violence that goes on in their neighborhoods,” said Budak, a retired Delphi employee who serves the Time Bank as a volunteer.

Time banking and the youth court is “an intervention into the culture of the community that is working positively toward a good vision to counter the negative vision from materialism, from drugs and from violence,” he added.

The proposal is known as a time-bank youth court because both juvenile and adult volunteer participants earn credits through the time-bank exchange. The time-bank youth court concept is about 20 years old, and model time-bank youth courts operate in Washington, D.C., and Dane County (Madison), Wis.

Volunteers are being sought here to serve as mentors and tutors for the young people participating in the youth court, teach life skills classes and staff the court.

Participants volunteer their skills and earn credits toward volunteer services others can provide for them. “It’s a service exchange, instead of a money exchange,” the judge said. “It puts a value on our services and what we can give to our community and to others, instead of just what we can do with money.”

“Those volunteers will be earning time credits,” that can be exchanged for volunteer services others can provide to them, Budak said of court volunteers. Services can be anything from driving someone to doctor’s appointments to cutting the grass, shoveling the snow, teaching piano and cooking.

The youth court features youth volunteers in roles as judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and jurors in trials of peer offenders, which occur under adult-volunteer supervision. The system of rewards students can obtain for their time credits hasn’t yet been developed, the judge added.

Charges suitable for youth court would include disorderly conduct, criminal damaging, truancy or curfew violations, the judge said. The goal is to use positive peer pressure as a turning point for changing behavior and enhancing self-esteem, decision-making skills and commitment to the community.

“Teen courts work because teens judge each other,” Judge Dellick said. “It also gives teens the opportunity to participate in our government, understand the government, volunteer, and learn how the whole system works. ... It’s a good way of making the offender also learn from his or her mistake.”

“If we just had the person who threw the rock through the window have to pay a fine and court costs, more often than not, mom and dad pay the fine and the court costs. And what has happened to the offender? What has he learned? Nothing,” the judge said.

“But, if you make that offender then be required to do something, then that offender learns from his bad behavior how to correct behavior, and, more often than not, you see decreased recidivism from the student and you see an increase in proper behavior.”

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