Stark County Family Court Teen Court is an adult-led, teen-driven program in which teen volunteers recommend sentences and act as jurors, bailiffs, defense attorneys and prosecutors with an adult serving as judge. Teen Court is an alternative to traditional juvenile court proceedings for first-time nonviolent offenders. This program is based on the premise that young people respond positively to the influences of their peers. Teen Court is funded through a grant from the United Way of Greater Stark County. UWGSC continues to support and fund Teen Court in recognition of its effectiveness, low recidivism for defendants and on-going benefit for student volunteers. As an alternative to adult-to-youth programs, youth-to youth systems have been successfully utilized across the country to hold youth accountable and educate them on the impact their actions have on others and themselves. Whether participating as the prosecutor, defense attorney, bailiff or jury member, Teen Court offers students the opportunity to positively impact their peers. Addressing juvenile crime gives court members a “sense of stake” in the community and empowers them to make their communities safer and to hold offenders accountable.
Juveniles are referred to Teen Court by the Court’s Intake Department upon a complaint of delinquency or unruly behavior. The defendant must be under the age of 18; have the parents/ guardians consent; and admit involvement with the charge.Once a youth is referred, the Teen Court Coordinator contacts the defendant and the parents to explain the program. They must voluntarily agree to participate in the program. Each defendant appears in court with his/her parents and admits involvement with the charge. The Bailiff introduces the defendant to the jurors and informs the jury of the charge. After the prosecutor and the defense attorney each present their cases, the juvenile and parents are given an opportunity to speak. The jury then deliberates and recommends a sentence. The sentence is read and the juvenile and parents are given a copy of the recommendations. The juvenile then has a specific time frame within which to complete the sentence. Failure to complete the sentence results in the case being set before a Judge or Magistrate
The Teen Court program has been in operation since 1996. Over 2,500 cases of juveniles charged with delinquency and or unruly offenses have been decided through this program. In addition, over 2,000 high school students have volunteered for this effective diversion program. The recidivism rate for those completing this program remains low. The parents of the juveniles charged are asked to rate their level of satisfaction with the program. In almost every case, parents said the program had a positive impact on their child and they would recommend this program to other families coming before the Juvenile Court.