This past week, the Rochester Police Department released crime statistics from 2009. In those statistics, there was a juvenile in the Beechwood neighborhood who was arrested and charged with 26 burglaries.
It is those types of crimes that one group hopes to stop with a little help from their peers. Teen attorney Tatiana Williams has seen 20 to 30 cases since she started working with the Center for Youth’s Teen Court program.
“They still show you in some way they are thankful,” said Williams. “We take a bar exam; it’s a mock bar exam, and we’re trained by an actual attorney who goes to Harvard.”
She is one of a number of teen attorneys who represent 16 to 19-year-old first time offenders after they’ve been arrested for misdemeanor charges such as criminal mischief, trespassing, shoplifting, drug possession or assault.
“What we see is that kids are often very hard on each other,” said Elaine Spaull, executive director at the Center for Youth.
Spaull said unlike other youth courts around the state, juveniles who end up in teen court have been arrested and face an actual judge.
“That sense of being connected, almost being in their own shoes but not, is a youth development for the kids who are the jurors and the attorneys,” said Spaull.
Spaull said 75 percent of those who go through the teen court system are never charged with another offense. About 90 percent of the kids that go through the very same system complete all of the requirements.
“If they don’t complete their sanctions in 90 days, it will go back to city court,” she added.
This is a voluntary program that relies on a commitment from the defendant, as well as parental involvement.
“It’s a real court, it’s a real offense. What we’re trying to do is make this first offense the last offense,” Spaull said. “We’re trying to make sure that kids that are on the system never enter the adult system.”
As for Tatiana, she has some words of advice for those who may be on the cusp of choosing to go through this program.
“I think this an excellent opportunity, if they have gotten into trouble, and they’ve admitted to being guilty for it, but it proves they are a strong character who is ready to move forward from this,” added Williams.
Center for Youth