Athens Peer Court wins GCCA Program of the Year Award

The Georgia Council of Court Administrators awarded the 2013 Program of the Year Award to the Athens Peer Court. The award was presented to Athens Peer Court members on February 11, 2014 at the National Association for Court Manager’s conference in Savannah, GA.
 
altThe Athens Peer Court is a diversion program through the Athens-Clarke County Juvenile Court that provides fair and appropriate dispositions for first-time youth offenders.  The program aims to reduce recidivism rates of first-time offenders by exerting positive peer pressure.  Youth offenders are given an opportunity to take responsibility for their actions and interact with other youths who are contributing positively in the community.
 
How it works
Youth volunteers in 7th to 12th grade serve in the roles of judge, lawyers, and jurors in sentencing hearings. They complete 14 hours of training prior to service to learn how to interview a client, how to write opening statements, and how to make a disposition recommendation. On the evening of a hearing, youth volunteers receive the police report and meet the respondent, so they must think and prepare quickly for the hearing. Through their participation in the program, youth volunteers gain public speaking skills, serve their community, and gain a new perspective on juvenile crime.
 
All first-time offenders charged with a misdemeanor or curfew violation have the option to attend Athens Peer Court.  For those youth offenders who agree to come to Athens Peer Court, a jury of peers determines a sentence, which typically includes community service, jury duty, and an apology to the family or a reflective essay. Youth have 90 days to complete this disposition. The Department of Juvenile Justice supervises the youth to ensure that the disposition is completed.

Success
Athens Peer Court began in March of 2012 and since then has served 123 youth offenders.  Peer courts, or teen courts, are common around the country but this is the first such program in Athens and only the third or fourth in Georgia.  The program is funded through a federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant, administered by the Governor’s Office of Children and Families.  This grant was originally awarded in July of 2012 and was renewed in July 2013.
 
To date, the Athens Peer Court has trained 61 youth volunteers and has an active core of about 35 youth volunteers. In addition, the program works closely with law students from the University of Georgia’s School of Law who mentor the youth volunteers. The program serves two to three youth each week. Youth volunteers have given more than 900 hours of community service to ensure that youth offenders receive a fair disposition.  
 
Youth offenders have served more than 300 hours of jury duty and have given more than 70 apologies to their parents, in court, in front of their peers.
 
In May 2013, the Western Circuit Bar Association awarded Athens Peer Court with the Liberty Bell Award, given each year to recognize outstanding community service by a citizen or organization that promotes a better understanding of the rule of law, encourages a greater respect for law and the courts, stimulates a sense of civic responsibility, and contributes to good government in the community.
 
The recidivism rate for youth offenders who have attended Athens Peer Court is 9%, and the average number of days between the date of the crime and the date of his or her peer court hearing has declined from 45 days to 41 days, and continues to decrease.

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