A peer in court

High-school senior/student coordinator for Sheldon High’s Peer Court program

You might wonder how someone could care so much to go to the extent of creating a new type of court that strives to help juvenile offenders make better lives for themselves. The existing courts are already hearing cases that deal with juvenile offenders, so why try to come up with a new system? If these adolescents are getting sentenced for their crimes, what more could a specialized court do? That’s an easy question.

The Sacramento Youth Peer Court was founded by James I. Morris of the Superior Court of California and General Davies, the superintendent of the San Juan Unified School District. The goals of this court are to hold youth offenders accountable for their actions and behaviors, help these youth to understand what impact their behavior has on the victim, community and themselves, and to teach them effective communication and problem-solving skills.

How does this court work? The first step in appearing in Peer Court is if the defendant confesses to the crime. Then the Probation Department of Sacramento refers the case to the Sacramento Youth Peer Court. The most important part of this court system is the youths who volunteer to participate. These are students from 24 surrounding Sacramento high schools who care enough to help their peers. All participants go through training to act as attorneys, bailiffs, clerks and/or jurors.

Is this an effective system? If you research the statistics you would discover that the Sacramento County Juvenile Probation Department has only a 42 percent success rate while the Sacramento Youth Peer Court has a 93.5 percent success rate. This means that after their case with Peer Court, 93.5 percent of juvenile offenders do not commit another offense. This is a very successful program and costs only one-tenth of what a traditional trial for a juvenile would cost.

The Sacramento Youth Peer Court was created to allow the youth of society help the youth of society. These students and schools deserve great recognition for the dedication that they put into the program. Thanks also go to the helping hands that made this program successful: James I. Morris, General Davies, John Barris (program director), Ben Raju (training attorney), judicial officers from the Sacramento Superior Court who preside over the trials, and the high-school mentors, attorneys and advisers. Without people who cared, then who would care?