A look at Youth Courts and the effects of the criminal justice system on youth was the topic with PAB Pro-Bono Coordinator David Trevaskis, and Harcum College Program Director for Law and Justice, Kathy Smith. We discussed the long-term effects that even a brush with the criminal justice system can have on a youth, the loss of the school support system, and a 400% increased chance of dropping out. Keeping high-risk kids in the school environment is key to breaking the ‘school to prison pipeline’ They defined high-risk, kids who are poor, kids of color, kids in districts practicing zero-tolerance on infractions, kids who are more likely to end up in the court system, another trauma that will prevent them from succeeding. Trauma was also discussed, homelessness and poverty, family issues, violence in the neighborhood or the fear of violence add up, in many cases school is the only safety net or constant in their lives, they discussed the effects of removing a youth from this safe environment. They discussed the various forms of youth courts, including truant courts in the Pittsburgh area, and the Chester county model, with a judge and bailiff and peer jury who works with the ‘respondent’ and his or her advocate. Guilt is accepted, the court and jury are there to ask who you harmed and how you can fix it. Once the case is settled, the respondent is then expected to participate on the jury. Dave and Kathy explained the benefits of the program, not only do the charged students avoid the court system, participants learn citizenship and all become invested in their school, many realizing for the first time that they are a part of the education system and the school belongs to them, too.
Kathy Smilth, Harcum College Director for Law & Justice EMAIL
Widener University Delaware School of Law Youth Court