Justice is served … with a twist

Corey O'Neal, center, serves as prosecutor during a recent meeting of the Alamance County Teen Court. / Anna Katherine Carey, Special to the Times-News

By Jordan Carey
Times-News correspondent

   Alamance County Teen Court is one of more than 50 teen court programs in North Carolina. Teen Court gives teens the opportunity to experience a real trial without getting a juvenile record.
In teen court, the only adult officials are the adult bailiffs and judges. Trained teen volunteers perform the roles of jurors, bailiffs, clerks, defense attorneys and prosecuting attorneys. Except on rare occasions, teens can only go through teen court once. Offenses in teen court range from affray to distributing obscene images. Some of the most common offences are weapons on school property, assault and substance abuse.
To participate in teen court instead of juvenile court, the defendant must admit guilt. He or she will then have a jury trial, which is run by the student volunteers.
The student jurors decide the defendant’s sentence, which is classified as a type A, B, or C. Each type of sentence includes mandatory educational seminars and serving on a teen court jury. Other sentences may require the student to perform community service, write an apology letter, or write an essay.
Alamance County’s teen court has between 150 and 225 trials a year. Dr. Therrel Brown, the coordinator, has been working for teen court since 2002. He prepares the dockets, makes the referrals and interviews the defendants. He and his assistant also set up the court and prepare packets for the volunteers. According to Brown, 95 percent of offenders who go through teen court do not re-offend.
Brown said he believes that teen court is important because when young people have a lapse in judgment, the program is like their “get out of jail free card.” It’s also a great thing for taxpayers, since teen court only costs about $600 per trial, unlike juvenile court which costs around $1,400.
He said he firmly believes that teen court has an impact on the offenders. In each trial, the defendant faces a court room of people, takes the stand, publicly admits guilt and takes responsibility for his or her actions. Some of Brown’s former offenders even come back to volunteer.
Mary Rezin, a 15-year-old home-schooler has been volunteering for teen court for more than a year. She finds that the prosecuting attorney is the easiest job to do.
Rezin said she believes that most of the offenders are good kids who made a wrong choice or were in the wrong place in the wrong time with the wrong people. Rezin said that being a teen court volunteer has “really opened (her) eyes to things that go on in public schools and in the community.”
Teen court is an important program because it gives teens a second chance. Volunteering for teen court gives teens a chance to see what goes on around the community and to help their peers.
If you’re interested in volunteering for the Alamance County Teen Court, contact Brown at Alamance County Dispute Settlement and Youth Services at (336) 227-9808 to participate in the next training session.

 Jordan Carey is an eighth-grade home-schooler and a Teens & Twenties writer.


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