On the whole, peer youth juries in schools are not effective towards helping juvenile delinquents.

Opinions on Debatable Issues #23

According to National Gang Center, “Youth Court” refers to a court that involves young people in the sentencing of their peers who are diverted from juvenile courts. Most teens involved are between 14-16 years old. In recent decades, more people are supporting the use of youth courts and peer juries to provide a lenient and moderate alternative to the juvenile justice system for a reduction in the rate of recidivism and an increase in engagement of teens in the legal system. I disagree respectively because of the ineffectiveness of the peer jury at deterring repeated offenses and the teens’ biases that might undermine a fair trial.

Elgin Peer Jury gives kids second chance - Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune

First, the peer jury of the teen court doesn’t necessarily help reduce recidivism as many argue. A 2015 research examining a teen Court in Maryland and a comparable group of juvenile offenders who went through the Department of Juvenile Services found that a logistic regression indicates that Teen Court is positively related to recidivism. Another study published in Sage Journal confirmed that “No substantial evidence was found to support the assertion that the teen-age jury reduces juvenile delinquency and youth crime.” This is reasonable because the deterrent effects of a peer jury in school are nowhere near the effects of an actual court trial. When offenders are put into the actual justice system to understand the consequences of committing delinquents, they will be less likely to re-offend in fear of going through the intense process once again. Also, having peers as a jury undermines the seriousness and formality of the event, making the offenders feel that it is a game or a joke. Not only do the offenders won’t take the trial as seriously as if they are tried in the juvenile justice system, but the delinquents are also less likely to accept the verdict willingly. Will you calmly accept a punishment given to you by a student in your class? No, because you don’t think they have the rights and the abilities to judge and punish you. But it is a different story if you are tried in front of a group of adult jurors. You are more likely to recognize the decision as authoritative and admit your fault. As a result, the decisions made in a peer court are not as effective as those in the juvenile justice system at galvanizing the offenders to admit their mistakes and change in the future.

Summary Offences vs. Indictable Offences | Haldanes Solicitors & Notaries

Second, peers have too many biases to make the fairest decision for their peers. Bias, either disdain or favor, or simply the worry of creating an enemy in school all can influence the jurors’ opinions and the verdict. The is the primary issue of a jury that any judicial institution tries to avoid. The US jury service rules show us exactly that. First, the people randomly selected have to complete a questionnaire to help determine if they are qualified to serve on a jury. Then, those qualified are randomly chosen to be summoned to appear for jury duty. According to United States Court, “ the judge and the attorneys will ask the potential jurors questions to determine their suitability to serve on the jury, a process called voir dire. The purpose of voir dire is to exclude from the jury people who may not be able to decide the case fairly. Members of the panel who know any person involved in the case, who have information about the case, or who may have strong prejudices about the people or issues involved in the case, typically will be excused by the judge.” This selection process helps to make sure that jurors represent a cross-section of the community, without regard to race, gender, national origin, age, or political affiliation. This demonstrates that fairness and unbiasedness are most important for a trial to be carried out justly. When peers became jurors, their prior knowledge of and the relationship with the person being tried inevitably make them more merciful or harsh when deciding what punishments are appropriate.

Unanimous Verdicts Required for Serious Crimes, Supreme Court Rules - WSJ
The Wall Street Journal

Besides, studies have shown that other biases are present in youth courts. A 2019 paper published in Social Work Research found that, in a diverse sample of youths involved in a TC program in Arizona, “youths who identified as Latinx or American Indian were more likely to receive a severe consequence from the peer jury compared with their non-Latinx, white counterparts. Multiracial youths were less likely to receive a severe consequence compared with white youths.” Those results show that teenagers are easily influenced by the biases they have. Thus, even though they might not know the offender, they can make unjust or inappropriate decisions because of their biases. In contrast, adult juries can better at managing their opinions. With more developed brains and experiences, adults can be more rational when dealing with offenses.

Intelligence For Your Life - Why Teenagers Make Irrational Decisions
John Tesh

Third, peer juries can increase the marginalization and bully events of delinquents in schools. The randomly selected teen jurors have a high possibility of knowing the offender within one school. Even though the juries not necessarily acquaintances of the offender, they have vague opinions of each other that play a role in shaping their decisions. Also, after the trial, words are going to spread like viruses to every corner of the school, making the case known to every student. Most people would not want to hang out with those who have criminal records committed misdemeanors. Even when some children don’t care, their parents are likely to forbid their kids from making friends with delinquents to prevent the “bad influences”. Those experiences of being alienated or bullied can have traumatic impacts on teens, which does not help shape them into positive, mentally-healthy citizens.

iDRIVE TV - Social Isolation: An Underlying Issue

Some people argue that peer juries help teens get to know laws. The truth is that there are better ways to achieve this while avoiding unfair rulings. For instance, research from Sage Journal, “active involvement of young persons in combating crime and delinquency [can] be manifested through the establishment of youth advisory committees attached to courts and committees that offer assistance to youngsters in trouble.” Teenagers can get critical thinking skills and legal knowledge by joining those committees.

Lastly, the cost of a peer jury is indeed lower than formal court trials. However, the ineffectiveness of a peer jury to inform teens of the laws and the consequences to reduce recidivism causes more expenses in the long run.

In short, the peer jury cannot effectively warn and deter the offenders to reduce the rate of recidivism and incurs unjust decisions influenced by teenagers’ biases, failing to help juvenile delinquents.

Rate of Juvenile Transfer to Adult Court 'Appalling' | News Blog
Memphis Flyer


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