Queensbury Warren County leaders decided Monday, Nov. 7 in a split vote to restore the funds for their Youth Court after hearing persuasive pleas from teenaged volunteers participating in the program.
Featuring teen prosecutors, juries, defense lawyers and judges, county Youth Court determines alternative sentences for non-violent youthful offenders.
The program has been credited with doling out stiffer sentences than county Family Court, as well as relieving a substantial burden on the county court system.
At a special county budget committee meeting, Warren County Supervisors voted to restore its 2011 contribution of $18,746 to the Youth Court operations for 2012 — funds that had been cut in October during earlier budget-formation sessions.
About a dozen county Youth Court teen volunteers attended the meeting, and four of them spoke about the program, citing that the program reduced crime in the county, as well as rehabilitating wayward young offenders — and prompting dozens of local teens to explore law careers.
“Many kids going through this program come from family situations that are not good,” said Chauncey Southworth of Glens Falls, a teen who has been involved in the program for years. “Youth Court gives them an opportunity to be with people, including their peers, who are headed in the right direction.”
He added that diverting just one teen from jail for a six month’s stay would offset the county’s costs of Youth Court for more than a year.
Allyson Mullin of Glens Falls told the Supervisors how Youth Court helped her get back on track after enduring adverse circumstances that included a run-in with the law. She said she’d been bullied and harassed, leading to social anxiety and an arrest for chronic truancy from high school.
Youth Court, she said, turned her life around. If her case had gone through Family Court, she would have been sent back home into the same situation, she said, with “babysitting” provided by a county probation officer.
But through Youth Court, she was prosecuted by her peers, and sentenced to 55 hours of community service — which included painting buildings and pulling weeds in sweltering weather at East Field.
“I became best friend with others in Youth Court, and I’m going to college now,” she said. “The program is very beneficial — it helps kids rehabilitate themselves and be positive members of society.”