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UPLAND, CA, March 26, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- When a group of youth volunteers get together to be part of a jury composed only of their peer students to hear cases of troubled youth, it is an action meant as a diversion to the juvenile court system. The first-time youth offenders who have committed minor infractions are lucky to be sent to Youth Court by their probation officers.
The first "Youth Court" was held on March 18, 2014 at the Ontario Police Department headquarters. The first case had a 12-member jury composed of volunteer teens that heard from a 17-year-old male who had missed 40 percent of school and was caught in possession of marijuana. One of the youngest volunteers for Youth Court, 14 year-old Nikolas Fantone of Fontana who wants to be a lawyer one day says, "This is a chance to help out other kids to make their future better." Since November, Nikolas and other volunteers like him has spent one day a month absorbing what he can about the youth-court process so he can be effective in helping troubled teens.
Rather than sending the troubled youth standing trial through the juvenile court system, it was interesting to watch this young man face a jury of his peers who relentlessly questioned him during the proceeding. The fact he was being judged by his peers and not by the usual hierarchy or adults in law enforcement seemed to make the point hit home.
"I am in full support of this project as we work towards easing young lives towards success for those not only in Ontario but in neighboring communities. With the help of the Youth Court we will be diverting young people away from the juvenile justice system and towards a more positive future," said Ontario Police Chief Eric Hopley.
Modeled after the judicial system, the Youth Court will provide an opportunity for first time offenders to clear their record, while remaining accountable for their offenses. The new system will cover cases of theft, possession of a controlled substance and paraphernalia, truancy, destruction of property, and bullying. Under the program, a variety of sentencing options such as community service, mentoring, restitution, curfew, drug testing, victim awareness classes, counseling, tutoring, oral and written apologies will be available.
The Youth Court program has been two and a half years in the making. Due to its success, the Public Defender's Office, the District Attorney's Office, the Ontario Police Department together with the local school districts, have the intention to replicate these Youth Courts in other neighboring cities.
"Our youth face many challenges such as poverty, trauma and easy access to drugs and alcohol. The Youth Courts provide a second chance for those who need additional support, and it has been a proven strategy. Youth Courts have a 10% habitual relapse rate vs. 75% for the traditional juvenile justice system. " said Diana Fox, Executive Director of Reach Out, a 501(c)3 non-profit that initiated this program together with Partners for Innovative Communities (PIC).
Reach Out is a 501(c)3, non-governmental, not-for-profit agency serving Southern California's Inland Empire and Pomona Valley and serves as a leader and conduit for strengthening families and communities by implementing innovative programs and policy changes necessary for building large-scale social change. For the past 45 years, Reach Out has worked to meet community needs by pioneering numerous innovative programs that serve over 20,600 people each year. In constant partnership with PIC (Partners for Innovative Communities) they have created these programs to empower young people and adults that maximize their leadership and potential while increasing their quality of life. Contact us at 909-982-8641 or www.we-reachout.org.
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