Youth volunteers for the Sarpy County Teen Court run a courtroom procedure for other teenagers who have received citations for first misdemeanor offenses such as theft, criminal mischief, disturbing the peace, minors in the possession of alcohol, and some traffic violations. The Teen Court volunteers do not decide the guilt or innocence of the young offenders. It is only available to those youth offenders who take responsibility for their actions and who wish to avoid a conviction on their record. However, Teen Court does determine the consequences for each defendant.
The volunteer teens are trained in the roles of attorneys, both defense and prosecution. They are also trained to be jurors and bailiffs. As attorneys, they make opening statements in the courtroom procedure, call the youth offender to the witness stand, and question the youth offender about the circumstances of the offense. Cross-examination is also allowed and then each attorney makes closing statements.
The impact of these youth helping others in their peer group is significant. Teen Courts throughout the United States report recidivism is greatly reduced when teenagers determine the consequences for other youth who have broken the law. Recidivism rates for the Sarpy county Teen Court are 22% to 28% less than if the same young people were disciplined by an adult in the juvenile system.
The volunteers involved in the Teen Court are : Erin Baker, Betsy Crofoot, Courtney Mallon, John Mayo, Bryan Russell, and Meaghan Weniger. These teens are exceptionally capable in the courtroom and display creativity and professionalism in opening statements, closing statements, and recommendations made to the jury. They have honed their courtroom skills by participation in the Teen Court. The youth are articulate, clear, and perform well in whatever role they are given. Their presentations are concise and appropriate, and the youth handle themselves in a very mature manner. The volunteers are capable of seeing the entire picture and tying information together with the result that they come up with some very appropriate and innovative recommendations to the jury.
The volunteers working in the Teen Court take their job very seriously. They are committed, dedicated, and are prepared to do whatever asked. All of the youths in the program have also been involved in representing the Teen Court in their community. They have been involved in presenting Mock Trials at workshops and talking to City Councils and community groups about the Court. These youth are investing themselves in a real issue within the community for the benefit of everyone.