Hempstead, NY - September 6th, 2013 - Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced that her office’s Youth Court, an innovative and progressive approach to youth justice, heard its 300th case this week in Hempstead.
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.
“We must ensure that our young people are afforded the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and fulfill their potential as positive, law-abiding members of society rather than spiral into a permanent presence in the criminal justice system,” Rice said. “Youth Court and Adolescent Diversion are all about intervention, prevention and education. These programs positively influence kids, provide them with the tools they need to succeed, make our communities safer and help shape the next generation of civic-minded, responsible citizens.”
To be eligible, all offenders -- referred to as respondents -- must be 17 or younger, acknowledge their wrongdoing, and take responsibility for their actions. Student volunteers from across Nassau County take on the 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 the 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.
Student volunteers also learn valuable skills from the special training they receive from assistant district attorneys in DA Rice’s office. Volunteers learn about the workings of the criminal justice system and the benefits of civic responsibility, as well as develop public speaking skills. Volunteers also connect with other young people from across Nassau County, act as a positive influence on their peers, and play an important role in reducing crime and delinquency in their communities.
DA Rice is a strong advocate for innovative and progressive approaches to youth justice, and her office 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.
DA Rice also 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. New York is one of just two states that treats 16- and 17-year-old defendants as adults, even for minor, nonviolent offenses.
For more information on DA Rice’s Youth Court, please visit: http://www.nassaucountyny.gov/agencies/DA/youthdev.html