California Educator

June/July 2019

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and socks, which she planned to give as birthday gifts to a friend. She reveals that she gets A's and B's, except in math, which she currently has a D in. She tearfully explains that her new friends pressured her to shoplift, and she has never been in trouble before. Her mother tells the courtroom that sh e di d n ot approve of th e se fri end s a n d f e l t t h e y w e r e t r o u b l e m a k e r s , but hoped her daughter's good inf lu - ence w ould r ub of f on th em . W h en a j u r o r a s k s w h a t c o n s e q u e n c e s w e re given, she replies that her daughter is grounded for several months. I n re p l y t o j u r o r s' q u e s t i o n s , t h e accused shares that her mother is her best friend, and she is sorry for disap- pointing her. She says that she enjoys playing on her school's softball team, hop es to go to college, and wants to become a nurse. Ju r o r s a re s u r p r i s e d t o l e a r n t h e accused participates in a Teen Court program at her school. "So, you knew that stealing was wrong," says a juror, and the girl nods ashamedly. Next, it's time for deliberations, and the JROTC bailiffs escort the jur y to a classroom, where they must decide the fate of the teen, who has pled guilty. The judge instructs them to make decisions based on evidence and not let sympathy inf luence what they choose in the way of remediation. Th e 1 2 j u ro r s v o t e t o re c o m m e n d s i x m o n t h s' p r o b a t i o n , 3 0 h o u r s o f community service, staying away from the friends who pressured her to steal, writing a letter of apology to the store owner, and participating in a mentor- sh i p pro g ra m f o r f u tu re n u r s e s . S h e m u s t a l s o m a i n t a i n h e r g ra d e s a n d continue with math tutoring. Jurors return to the courtroom and report their recommendations to the judge, who agrees and decides to add a curfew during the probation period. e judge reminds the accused that she is only a few months away from turning 18, and the few months' difference could have meant jail time. "Life is full of pressure, and you have to be your own person, or you will find yourself back where you are now," says the judge. "No more stealing. No more lying to Mom. No more sneaky stuff." A f t e r w a r d , t h e Te e n C o u r t C l u b d e b r i e f s t h e s e s s i o n . T h e y a r e s u r - prised to learn the of fender's mother thought they were much too tough on her daughter. They say they believe they acted fairly, compassionately, and in the student's best interest. " I l o v e Te e n C o u r t ," s ay s H a n n a h Nemeth, co-president of the club. "It's an amazing program. We work with minors w h o c ommit real crim e s, w h o c oul d potentially go to juvenile hall, and we are giving them a second chance." Co-President Sergio Godinez says he feels empowered by participating in the democratic process. "Usually all we hear is 'Wait until you are old enough to vote,' but this lets us make changes now within our local community." Botchie is proud of the critical think- ing, empathy and good decision-making she has witnessed in participants over the years, and notes that the recidivism rate for offenders is low. Of all the teens tried in 47 Teen Courts in Los Angeles County, only 5 percent commit another crime before turning 18. " We have no way to track them after that, but we often hear from their pro- bation of ficer that they have finished probation, are back on track at school and generally doing well," says Botchie. "Sometimes we hear they are attending college. I absolutely believe we are mak- ing a difference." The student audience awaits the start of Teen Court. 48 Teaching & Learning

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