05/10/10 — Teen Court statistics indicate program helping many youth

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Teen Court statistics indicate program helping many youth

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 10, 2010 1:46 PM

Teen Court is proving to be an effective deterrent to repeat offenders, says Sudie Davis, executive director of Communities in Schools, which is responsible for the program.

Teen Court recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary and with it, the milestone of having served its 1,000th youth.

The program caters to first-time juvenile offenders. Clients are referred there by juvenile court counselors, school resource officers or District Court judges.

Infractions range from simply affrays and disorderly conduct to possession of alcohol or marijuana and simple assault.

Hearings are held before the client's peers, although a judge determines the final sentence.

But perhaps the biggest advantage of the program, Mrs. Davis said, is for those students who successfully complete it -- the charges against them are dismissed.

Ideally, Mrs. Davis said, students served by Teen Court go on to lead productive and happy lives. For many, it has been sufficient in steering them onto the right path and preventing them from having a criminal record, or continuing down the wrong road.

Mrs. Davis decided to see just how effective the program has been.

"We do measure on an annual basis. We enter all of our kids in the Department of Juvenile Justice client tracking," she said. "We do outcome-based measures but we do that annually and it does not give you long-term outcomes. ... (We) thought, we have been doing this 10 years. Wouldn't it be nice to know something that could really show the impact of it?"

The search was to discern whether any of them had gone on to be incarcerated or on probation.

Mrs. Davis said she was very pleased with the findings.

"When we finished, out of the 1,015 (at the time), 114 of them had been on probation or incarcerated," she said. "But 901 had never been involved in the Department of Correction.

"So, 89 percent of our kids who have completed successfully have never been involved in probation or been incarcerated."

Granted, there were some youths who fell into other categories -- they did not successfully complete the program, moved away or received an additional charge, making them ineligible to continue in Teen Court.

Those, Mrs. Davis said, were placed in a different category.

"But we looked at those, too," she said. "We had 115 for whatever reason did not complete successfully and of those students, 62 of them have not had any N.C. DOC involvement. That's 54 percent of them."

The tracking system proved to be a confidence-booster, Mrs. Davis said.

It sends the message that it's making a difference, for students, for families and for Wayne County, not to mention its impacts on the court system and jail population.

"I think if kids did not complete the program successfully, it may be an indicator that they would be on their way to more trouble," she said. "We feel this study clearly shows that a Teen Court client who successfully completes his or her constructive sentence while in the Teen Court program is more apt to avoid further involvement with the courts than those who are not successful in completing the program."

The results are particularly impressive in light of the current economic climate, when some Teen Court programs in the state have been eliminated, Mrs. Davis said.

She determined awhile back to do everything possible to prevent that from happening in Wayne County.

"So many Teen Court programs in N.C. are funded through Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils," she said, which positions the program to being "at the mercy of being funded. Our Teen Court program does not receive funding (solely) from the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.

"Several years ago we took a 7.5 percent cut, later a 2.5 percent cut. I thought we needed to broaden the funding base."

She became resourceful in her efforts -- securing support from the United Way, tapping into the school system's "Safe and Drug-Free Schools" grant, the latter which afforded them $6,000 but is expected to run out soon.

The surrounding community has also rallied behind the program, Mrs. Davis pointed out.

"We have so many people working with us -- Boys and Girls Club, American Red Cross, Soup Kitchen, nursing homes, the library," she said. "We have a lot of people helping to make this a success because if we don't have these people out there, we could not afford to pay somebody to provide the community services. We could not effectively run the program."