Crawford County Teen Court still going strong

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Program gives youth a second chance

By Ted Pennekamp

 

The Crawford County Teen Court began in November of 2011 and is still going strong.

“We’ve had 94 cases since we began, and we’ve only had one that had to be sent back to juvenile court for failure to comply with the consequences,” said Teen Court Coordinator Kathy Quamme.

Quamme explained that Teen Court is an alternative sanctioning program for first-time youth offenders who agree to allow their peers to determine sentencing instead of the juvenile justice system. The goal of Teen Court is to decrease and discourage juvenile delinquency by intervening in the beginning stages of criminal behavior. Teen Court serves youth ages 12-16 who commit first-time misdemeanors or ordinance violation such as curfew, disorderly conduct, harassment, meddling-minor property offenses, possession of drug paraphernalia, marijuana possession, shoplifting, truancy, underage tobacco, or any other violation deemed appropriate for Teen Court.

“We currently have 25 youth who are volunteer jurors for Teen Court,” said Quamme. “We have high school students from Prairie du Chien, Seneca and Wauzeka-Steuben, and also one high school age online student.”

Nationwide, Teen Court is popular because only 4 percent of offenders will re-offend compared to 66 percent who go through the traditional juvenile justice system, noted Quamme. She said 25 percent of offenders in Crawford County who go through Teen Court re-offend, but that is still way better than 66 percent.

Quamme said Teen Court is also popular in Crawford County because the youth jurors hand out sentences that fit the crimes.

“The judge in the traditional juvenile justice system can only fine and/or have the offender complete community service,” said Quamme. “The jurors in Teen Court can be as creative as they want to be.”

Quamme cited the example of a Crawford County high school boy who was on the basketball team and got caught vaping (electronic smoking). The Teen Court handed down a sentence whereby the boy had to help with a youth basketball program and also had to write a report about the negative effects of vaping.

Another youth was guilty of illegally using an electronic communication device. His peers on the Teen Court jury handed down a sentence whereby he had to watch a movie about bullying and then write a summary report. Quamme said the Teen Court also paid for the youth to take an online class about sexting, bullying and cyber-safety. Quamme explained that Teen Court offenders must pay a $35 fee. That money is often used to pay for programs involved in the sentencing, such as the online class. She said 25 percent of all Teen Court cases  in Crawford County involve the illegal use of electronic communication devices.

The Teen Court program in Crawford County gets a lot of cooperation from local law enforcement by way of direct referrals to Teen Court. Quamme said a citation written by a police officer starts a juvenile record for the offender, whereas Teen Court does not.

In addition to law enforcement, Quamme said she also gets a lot of assistance from adult volunteers (mentors) who help with Teen Court. In addition, the Wisconsin Law Foundation has given $12,317 to date in support of the Crawford County Teen Court. A few years ago, the Law Foundation also featured the Crawford County Teen Court in its annual newsletter as a model program.

“I’ve got the best job in the world,” said Quamme. “Most kids are very good, but they just made a mistake, a bad decision. Teen Court gives them a chance to make up for it.”

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