Greenville County Schools in Greenville, S.C., is testing a new tool for dealing with misbehavior on campus — youth court. Two high schools will be pilot sites for the program, which will begin in January.
Students who are first-time offenders charged with non-violent crimes on the school campus, at a school event or on a school bus will be eligible to have their cases transferred from Family Court to be heard instead by their peers in youth court. If they successfully complete the sentence handed down by the student jury, there will be no official juvenile court record of the incident.
The ultimate goal is to expand the program to the entire school district.
Charges eligible to be heard in youth court include disturbing schools, petty larceny, simple assault, vandalism, interfering with the operation of a school bus and other minor infractions. Students must plead guilty in order to participate in youth court.
An adult volunteer, usually an attorney, serves as a judge in youth court. It is this person’s role to clarify legal terminology and rule on courtroom procedure. Youths are trained to serve as attorneys, bailiffs, clerks and jurors.
Jurors determine the sentence, which can include performing community service, writing a letter of apology, paying restitution, writing an essay on the crime committed and attending counseling sessions. Once the defendant completes his sentence, he serves as a juror in other cases. Students who participate will undergo a minimum of 12 hours training.