Colorado Springs teen court celebrated 16 years in the community Friday morning.
The teen court program has served more than 5,000 at risk teens since 1994. It provides an alternative to the regular municipal court for kids between 10 and 18 who have misdemeanor offenses.
Cases are sent to three different courts, depending on the age of the offender and the type of crime committed.
Younger offenders and those whose crimes are less severe have their cases sent to peer panels. Peer panels consist of trained teen volunteers, who conduct separate interviews with defendants and one or both parents or guardians to determine sentencing. The interviews provide the panel chance to get insight into the defendant's life, to get the full picture of possible circumstances that might play a role in the defendant's decision to commit a crime.
Older offenders and those who commit serious crimes are sent to a trial by peer jury. Those teens are tried in a formal courtroom setting presided by a district, county, or municipal court judge, while trained teen volunteers serve as bailiffs and attorneys.
Restorative mediation provides an opportunity to those most affected by a crime committed by a teen to be directly involved with the restorative process. Defendants, their victims, a trained Teen Court mediator and sometimes members of the community--such as teachers or firefighters--meet with the defendant to develop a plan for recovery. The defendant and victim must both agree to participate.
Local students, judges, lawyers and law enforcement officials have volunteered more than 3600 hours to this program.
To celebrate the milestone, a birthday breakfast was held at the Antlers Hilton on Friday. District Court Judge Patrick Kelley received an award from the program.
"As a judge, I have never had an adult defendant come in front of me who has gone through this program. With a six percent recidivism rate, that means we've got a 94 percent success rate...impact to the community," Kelley said.
If teens who go through the court comply with all court decisions, the charges filed against them are dismissed. Records can be expunged after one year if the former defendant does not commit another offense.