Peer Jury Program Offers Second Chance to Young Offenders
A program running at the Flossmoor and Homewood Police Departments is offering an opportunity to young, first-time offenders to adjust course before developing a criminal record. The program, titled Peer Jury, uses juries that are truly composed of the arrested teen’s peers to devise a consequence, rather than immediately subjecting them to the court system.
The local program offers training to adolescents in 6th through 12th grade, some of whom are themselves former offenders. The volunteers are then selected to serve on juries that devise consequences for first-time offenders under the age of 18 who are arrested on misdemeanor charges. The teens are offered the option of participating in the Peer Jury program instead of going before a juvenile court.
At the Peer Jury hearings, both the teen offender and their parent are present, and in some cases, the victim is, as well. The jury hears testimony from the arresting officer, the arrested teen, their parents, and the victim, if present. The jury then devises a consequence for the teen’s behavior, which could include meeting with victims of similar crimes, or completing reading assignments or watching movies that address related issues. All participants are also required to write an apology letter to the victim of their crime. Should the teen refuse to complete the consequence, they will be referred back to the juvenile court.
The Peer Jury’s guiding principles are based on those of restorative justice, a philosophy that focuses on repairing harm caused by crime through communication between the alleged offender and victim, and making amends for wrongdoing. The program seeks to help teen offenders understand the consequences of their actions, both for the victims and for themselves and their family, rather than simply paying a penalty after an arrest.
One officer who has observed the Peer Jury program in action feels that it is making a substantial difference in kids’ lives. Detective Dennis Karner of the Flossmoor police department said, “When a kid can tell another kid they goofed up, it seems to me it has more of an effect. That’s the impressive part about it. Our volunteers and the kids that we have on the jury all take it seriously.”
The program’s founders claim that it has been a resounding success in preventing repeat offenses. According to one of its founders, Mary Fazzini, less than 2% of teen participants in the Peer Jury program become repeat offenders. A similar program once existed in the Markham Courthouse, which is home to the busiest juvenile court in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Unfortunately, the program’s funding grant was not renewed, and the program was subject to cutbacks.
If you’re facing charges before the Markham Courthouse or Bridgeview Courthouse, contact an attorney who can provide a complete and dedicated defense for those charges by contacting the Homewood criminal defense attorney John Fairman for a consultation, at 708-799-4848, or in Bridgeview at 708-799-4848.