A new teen court has launched in Los Angeles to investigate hate crimes and bullying. The special program, Stopping Hate and Delinquency by Empowering Students, started after a judge noticed increasing accounts of bullying and hate crimes about five years ago.
The Los Angeles Times reports that L.A. County Superior Court Assistant Presiding Judge David S. Wesley, who helped launch Los Angeles’ teen courts 20 years ago, thought that peer review would have a strong effect on those accused of bullying and similar crimes.
“It’s really not about guilt or innocence. It’s about minors being confronted about what they did by their peers,” Wesley said to the Los Angeles Times.
Teen courts have been around for quite some time, but have become more prevalent in the last few years. According to the National Association of Youth Courts, as of March, 2010, there were over 1,050 youth court programs in operation in 49 states and the District of Columbia. This is up from only 78 youth courts that were in operation in 1994.
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In L.A.’s established teen courts, trained high school students hear relatively minor charges from first-time offenders, such as petty theft or battery. These jurors question their peers, determine whether or not they are guilty, and hand out sentences. Those who are convicted are required to come back as juror; other students volunteer for the job. All jurors are trained for the job, and those in the new court for bullying and hate crimes receive extra training from the Museum of Tolerance.
In one such case, three teenage girls were tried for vandalizing a classmate’s house. After hearing testimony and asking questions, the 15 student jurors ultimately found the girls guilty and Wesley ordered them to a youth camp on human relations and community service, among other punishments.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that fewer than five percent of offenders in teen court repeat their crimes, an improvement over traditional courts, Wesley told the Times.
“It’s so powerful when peers tell you what you’re doing is wrong, rather than adults,” he said.
Do you think this is an effective way to address bullying and hate crimes? Let us know in the comments.
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Kelly Zhou hails from the Bay Area and is currently a student in Los Angeles. She has written on a variety of topics, predominantly focusing on politics and education. Email Kelly | @kelllyzhou | TakePart.com