Teen Court: An Alternative to Criminal Prosecution for First Time Juvenile Offenders

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Many Jacksonville Florida children will experience the stress of their parent’s divorce each year. How they will react depends on their age, personality and the circumstances surrounding the divorce process. Many times the initial reaction is one of shock, sadness, frustration, and anger. As such, it is not surprising for some children to act out and get themselves into trouble at school or in the community.

Luckily for these children, the Duval County Courthouse offers first time misdemeanor offenders the opportunity to participate in a diversion program as an alternative to criminal prosecution. The program is called “Teen Court,” and gives juveniles between the ages of 10-17 a second chance to hold themselves accountable for their actions. Other specially trained teenagers fulfill the roles of prosecuting and defense attorney, bailiff and jurors. A practicing attorney or judge supervises the process as the magistrate and determines the final sentence. The juvenile defendant and their parent sign a contract agreeing to fulfill the imposed sentence. If the dependent successfully completes their sentence, adjudication will be withheld, and there will be no conviction on the juvenile’s record as a result.

The Teen Court program is based on the philosophy that youthful law violator is less likely to continue bad behavior when their peer jury decides the punishment. The program attempts to stop developing patterns of bad behavior by promoting feelings of self esteem and healthy attitudes toward authority. The program’s goal is to educate teens about citizenship and accepting responsibility for their actions.