Youth Peer Court (YPC) is a program offering an alternative to the traditional juvenile justice system by providing eligible youth an opportunity to receive an individually tailored restorative justice agreement in lieu of a monetary fine issued through the municipal court.
Youth Peer Court is for youth who have received either a restorative justice referral from local law enforcement or went to their local municipal court for ordinance violations such as retail theft, damage to property, truancy, battery, or disorderly conduct. The Youth Peer Court also hears status offenses such as citations issued for curfew violations and underage drinking tickets. If youth choose to participate in the Peer Court process and complete their restorative justice agreement, they are successfully diverted from the juvenile justice system. Youth volunteers between the ages of 12 and 18, who live in surrounding communities are trained to serve as volunteer jurors. Adult community members serve on an Advisory Board in each community.
Municipalities participating include: Cottage Grove, Oregon, Sun Prairie and Madison
Who benefits from Youth Peer Court?
The youth who received the referral or citation benefits by:
- Learning about accountability and how to repair harm through a restorative agreement.
- Learning more about the juvenile and criminal justice system.
- Gaining a better understanding of how their behavior has impacted others.
- Successfully completing their restorative agreement and not having a municipal conviction record.
The teen volunteers benefit by:
- Learning valuable transferable skills such as public speaking, collaboration and logical thinking.
- Taking an active role in their community and supporting their peers.
- Developing leadership skills.
- Learning more about the legal and justice system.
- Gaining experience and a good reference to use while searching for a paid job.
The community benefits by:
- Discouraging further crime (evidence indicates diversion programs reduce the likelihood of recidivism).
- Youth repairing any harm done and increasing positive ties to the community.
- Involving community members in the process via volunteer opportunities.
Cases are referred to Youth Peer Court by various local law enforcement agencies along with Municipal Courts in participating communities. Teen volunteers are recruited from middle and high schools in participating communities. The advisory board consists of the municipal court judge, police officers, school staff and other community members. Briarpatch Youth Services is one of the agencies administering the program. Other agencies included in the restorative justice initiative are the YWCA and the Dane County Time Bank.
What challenges might volunteers encounter?
Challenges include exposure to diverse youth and family situations including those struggling to overcome systematic oppression, mental health challenges, trauma, etc. Volunteers may also encounter individuals unfamiliar with restorative justice principles and what it means to hold accountability. Our current juvenile and criminal justice systems originate from a retributive philosophy in which accountability often takes the form of punishment, whereas the peer court program focuses on supporting individuals in repairing harm and encouraging them with positive youth development activities and services.
The Youth Peer Court team aims to maintain a consistent pool of jurors who are diverse and representative of the community population. They are from surrounding communities in the Dane County area who have received specialized training in the Peer Court process and Restorative Justice. They do not act as a Judge and will not decide who is right or wrong or render a decision of guilt or innocence. They are neutral facilitators and collaborators who hope to help participants communicate and create a solution that is restorative and holistic.
Adult volunteers who have passed a background check and have been screened can sit as a Co-Facilitator to assist the Program Specialist as they facilitate Peer Court sessions.
"Definitely made me rethink my past actions and want to change my ways."
~Past youth participant