Staffed entirely by student volunteers,Nassau County Youth Court gives teen defendants opportunities not afforded by traditional courts
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and Incorporated Village of Hempstead Mayor Wayne J. Hall, Sr. were joined by numerous other officials and student volunteers to commemorate the 500th case of the Nassau County Youth Court, the DA Office’s innovative and progressive court for teen defendants, at a ceremony in Hempstead on July 30. They were joined by Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Sharon M.J. Gianelli, Nassau County District Court Judge David Goodsell, Hempstead Village Deputy Mayor Luis Figueroa, Hempstead Village Trustee Waylyn Hobbs, Nassau County Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, and Hempstead Village Police Chief Michael McGowan.
“Youth Court is a unique, innovative form of restorative justice that recognizes that young people can make mistakes that they should be held accountable for but in positive ways that protect them from spiraling into lifelong participants in the criminal justice system,” Acting DA Singas said after the Court’s 500th case concluded on July 30. “Youth Court saves futures by giving kids a second chance at being productive, law-abiding members of society, all the while saving taxpayer money by keeping cases out of traditional courts. We’re proud to offer it here in Nassau County.”
“Youth Court is a constructive way to let young people facing low-level nonviolent criminal charges recognize their mistakes and take responsibility for their actions,” Mayor Hall said. “This program provides a support system lacking in traditional courts to help young men and women overcome past challenges and prepare for future opportunities.”
Nassau County Youth Court, an actual working court staffed by student volunteers and overseen by Assistant District Attorneys Kara Kaplan and Arianne Reyer, provides young people who have committed nonviolent crimes with the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions, serve their community, and learn character and career-building skills. Respondents facing non-violent criminal charges who are selected to be moved from traditional courts to the peer-run Youth Court receive non-criminal dispositions that include community service and jury duty on future Youth Court cases. When respondents successfully complete the program, they receive a favorable disposition, most often their case is dismissed and sealed, and they often return as volunteers to help run the Youth Court.
To be eligible, all offenders – referred to as respondents – must be 11 to 17 years old, acknowledge their wrongdoing, and take responsibility for their actions.
More than 100 youth offenders are served in Youth Court every year. Approximately 60 active volunteers from across Nassau County take on roles of prosecutor, defense attorney, bailiff, clerk, and juror during Youth Court hearings. All respondents must answer questions from jurors about what they did and why it was wrong.
After a hearing, the jury – which consists almost entirely of respondents serving on the jury as part of their disposition–deliberates and imposes a fair and constructive sanction for the offender using restorative justice goals. Common sanctions include community service, oral and written apologies, essays, Youth Court jury duty, curfew, and mediation.
In each case, respondents are linked to positive social activities that will benefit their community and provide the respondent with a new experience that will have a positive impact on him or her, and potentially become a regular activity. For example, respondents have been linked to college professors, football coaches, lawyers, and other community agencies to help them pursue their academic or professional goals. Respondents are also linked to supportive services including drug treatment, anger management, and counseling.
Youth Court is also considered to save taxpayer money by keeping hundreds of cases out of traditional courts and offering alternatives to traditional sentencing for the nonviolent, low-level offenders who are selected to participate.
The Hempstead Village Court and the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University have housed Youth Court since 2011 and continually support the efforts of the Court.