Hempstead, NY - March 17, 2014 - Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne Hall, approximately 30 volunteers and their family members celebrated the 3rd anniversary of Nassau County Youth Court at an event on Thursday, March 13 that also marked the hearing of the court’s 350th case.
“Young people need a place where they are allowed the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and grow into productive and law-abiding members of society,” DA Rice said at the event at Hempstead Village Court. “People who have participated in these 350 cases over the past three years have seen firsthand the power of Youth Court to transform young people into agents for positive change – not only in their own lives, but for the larger community as well.”
At the event, Mayor Hall presented a “Mayor’s Recognition Award” to Assistant District Attorney Kara Kaplan, director of DA Rice’s Youth Court, and Assistant District Attorney Arianne Reyer, Youth Court’s assistant director, on the occasion of the program’s 3rd anniversary.
Youth Court provides young people who have committed nonviolent crimes with the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions, serve their community, and learn character and career-building skills. The Hempstead Village Court and the Maurice A. Dean School of Law at Hofstra University have housed Youth Court since 2011 and continually support the efforts of the program.
To be eligible, all offenders – referred to as respondents – must be 11 to 17 years old, acknowledge their wrongdoing, and take responsibility for their actions.
Over 100 youth offenders are served in Youth Court a year. Approximately 60 active volunteers from across Nassau County take on roles of prosecutor, defense attorney, bailiff, clerk, and juror during Youth Court hearings. All respondents must answer questions from jurors about what they did and why it was wrong.
After a hearing, the jury deliberates and imposes a fair and constructive sanction for the respondents using restorative justice goals. Common sanctions include community service, oral and written apologies, essays, Youth Court jury duty, curfew, and mediation.
In each case, respondents are linked to positive social activities that will benefit their community and provide the respondent with a new experience that will have a positive impact on him or her, and potentially become a regular activity. For example, respondents have been linked to college professors, football coaches, lawyers, and other community agencies to help them pursue their goals. Respondents are also linked to supportive services including drug treatment, anger management, and counseling.
About 96 percent of respondents complete their sanctions successfully, and there is a recidivism rate of about 8 percent.
Today, New York State is the only state besides North Carolina to treat 16 and 17 year olds as adults in criminal court. Each year, approximately 50,000 adolescents statewide are subject to prosecution in criminal court – with most of them facing misdemeanor charges.
DA Rice recently called on state lawmakers to reform the criminal justice system by raising the age at which defendants in nonviolent cases can be prosecuted as adults in criminal court.
DA Rice is a strong advocate for innovative and progressive approaches to youth justice, and Nassau is among several counties in New York State selected by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to open an Adolescent Diversion Part (ADP) to address deficiencies in the criminal justice system’s handling of young teenage offenders.
Offenders age 16 and 17 are eligible for participation in the ADP court. Each offender is first screened using a number of factors to determine whether an offender is at a low, medium, or high risk to reoffend.
That initial assessment determines the course that prosecutors take. Low assessment offenders can see their cases dismissed, while medium and high risk offenders will have a treatment plan tailored to their needs and overseen by the adolescent diversion judge. All of this is done to address the factors that led the offender to the court in the first place, and to reduce the odds of reoffending.
For more information on DA Rice’s Youth Court, please visit: http://www.nassaucountyny.gov/agencies/DA/youthdev.html