All rise! Youth Court will soon be in session

Court is in session, almost — after months of preparation, the Clifton Park Youth Court will commence in February, as soon as a date is set for the first case.
About a year and a half ago, the idea of starting a Youth Court in Clifton Park began with the support of the Town Board. Students in grades seven to 12 will run it, and they will take on most of the roles that exist within an actual courtroom. For each case there will be a judge, prosecutor, clerk, and, of course, a jury with a foreman. The seventh- and eighth-graders will be the members of the jury, while the older students will take on posts with a bit more responsibility.
The groundwork had to be set up before the program itself could start.
The training for the students — six classes, an hour-and-a-half each — took place in the fall. They have been preparing for the first hearing ever since.
“It’s an amazing initiative,” Town Supervisor Phil Barrett said. “It’s a concept and program that is meaningful, and as the planning has progressed it has been meaningful for the adults involved as well.”
The program is based on the restoration of justice. “It gives these kids the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions; they made mistakes and the Youth Court is willing to give them a second chance,” said Councilwoman Amy Standaert, leader of the Youth Court initiative. “Through this program they are judged by their peers and the sentence is focused on the offense and how the offender can learn from it.”
All of the offenders are also required to come back and serve in the jury after fulfilling the conditions and penalties imposed in their own case, which could include community service or some form of financial payment. For instance if the crime committed was vandalism, the punishment would probably include cleaning up something within the community.
The young adults who take part in the program not only will gain practical experience but also be exposed to a potential career path in the legal field.
There are other benefits to participation in the Youth Court, such as resume fodder and fulfillment of National Honor Society requirements.
There is also value to the offenders. “There are many success stories from other Youth Courts where they are able to see the other side of the law,” Standaert said. “They become members of law enforcement because they see how much they were helped and they want to help people in the same way.”
Soon the gavel will strike the sounding block, and justice will be served.

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