Teen Court program gives troubled young people a second chance

If you ask Mike Botke to describe exactly what Teen Court is all about, he tells you straight up. “The Teen Court Program really is about holding young people accountable and giving them a second chance in life,” explains Botke. “Because we all know what happens to people when you have a criminal record. We don’t want these young people to have a criminal record.”

Botke is the director of the Teen Court program in Ingham County, one of the juvenile justice diversion services that have helped about 175 first-time juvenile offenders each year since 2001.  He helps young people between the ages of 11-16 who have committed an offense and have had their petitions reviewed and referred by the Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Circuit Court-Family Division.

When entering the Teen Court program these young people must take responsibility for their offense (admit guilt) and participate in a variety of requirements and services designed to help them resolve risk factors, (such as negative peer pressure, underage drinking, poor school performance), which will enhance their ability to make safe choices and reduce repeat offenses.

“Who’s holding them accountable?  Well besides the adults like me, it’s their peers,” continues Botke.

Teens (Left front clockwise) Sara L., Monntel W., Elijah, W., Aidan J. and Julia S. review each case in the deliberation room.

Teens (Left front clockwise) Sara L., Monntel W., Elijah, W., Aidan J., and Julia S. review each case in the deliberation room.

“They’re average young people in our community. They’re learning too about the importance of making good choices. They are learning about what happens in the courtroom. They’re learning more about the law, and they are learning about how to be good citizens.”

Currently the Teen Court is achieving nearly a 90 percent success rate, which means less than 10 percent fail to complete the program and do not commit additional crimes.  Annually, over 500 students are trained and serve as Peer Jurors, Bailiffs and Clerks in hearings conducted at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School campus in Lansing, Michigan.  Students are recruited from eight different high schools (Dansville, Mason, Williamston, Stockbridge, Eastern, Everett, Sexton and Okemos) during the school year.  In the summer months, youth are recruited throughout Ingham County.  While they deliver a positive peer pressure message through issuing sanctions to hold the Respondent accountable, participants are engaged in a positive way in our juvenile justice system.  Often Peer Jurors will sanction Respondents to return to serve as a Peer Juror, which affords them the opportunity to contribute to the community and become part of solution and not the problem.

Teen Court Honorary Judge Professor Mable Martin-Scott guides Teen Court participants through the hearing process at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

Teen Court Honorary Judge Professor Mable Martin-Scott guides Teen Court participants through the hearing process at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

Targeted Teen Court Program Outcomes (all youth participants):

  • Personal Success: Enhance Skills, Positive Self Identity and Confidence to Succeed
  • Reduce Underage Drinking and Use of Other Illegal Drugs
  • Remain In School / Increase School Attendance and Overall School Success
  • Increase Family Success: Boundaries, Expectations, Positive Communication
  • Earn Dismissal of Code of Conduct Offense (resolving risk factors and increase school engagement)
  • Gain New Law Knowledge and Personal Skills
  • Spend Constructive Time Engaging in Peer Jury Duty – practice “Good Citizenship”
  • Increase Awareness of How Safe Choices can Increase Personal Success

Do peer pressure messages carry more weight? What do you think?

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