Teen Court Puts Offenders Face to Face with Peers

By: David Norris Email
By: David Norris Email

BRYAN, Texas A program in Bryan puts teen offenders face to face with their peers.

It's called teen court. It's a diversion program designed to give kids with minor crimes an alternative to the traditional juvenile court system.

The process starts when a judge decides if the offender is eligible to go before the teen court at the Bryan Municipal Court.

"Generally first time offenders," said Janet Sandera, Juvenile Case Coordinator for the City of Bryan. "These are kids who've been charged with class C misdemeanors. Anything from disorderly conduct, fighting or language, disruption of class or theft under fifty dollars."

A group of teens act as the jurors. The teens come from different backgrounds and with different reasons for serving on the jury. Some of them are working on community service hours to graduate, others are offenders themselves, sentenced to serve on teen court.

They listen to the defendant plea his or her case, ask questions, then consult together on the case. They then hand down a sentence.

Sandera said the jurors have a wide choice of sentencing options, including community service, counseling and even sentencing the defendant to serve on teen court.

"We're changing lives, by giving these kids a glimpse into what these different roles are in local government," Sandera said.

Sandera said teens who go through the program are typically less likely to re-offend.

"Among my case load, I'd say 90 percent complete the program successfully," Sandera said. "(They) have not had another ticket as of yet."

Joshua Harris, 13, is a self-professed trouble maker. He's been to teen court twice as a defendant, once for pushing a teacher. Now he volunteers his time serving as a juror. He said it's changed his life, and now he hopes to one day be a judge.

"I've met a lot of people here," Harris said. "Nice people. It's fun hanging out with them."

If the defendant complies with the sentencing and meets certain requirements, Sandera said the case could be dismissed.

And teens aren't the only ones who can benefit from the program. City officials said because teen court is primarily operated from a volunteer base, it saves the City of Bryan thousands of dollars annually in salaries and fringe benefits.

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