The City of Bryan Teen Court, established in January 2008, is a diversion program designed to offer an alternative to formal juvenile court proceedings. At Teen Court’s sentencing phase hearings, trained Bryan High School student volunteers using a Peer Jury format, roughly modeled after the process used by a grand jury, perform the courtroom roles of clerk, bailiff, juror, defense attorney and prosecutor.
Teen Court defendants are first time class C misdemeanor offenders generally aged 11 -1 7, who voluntarily agree to participate in the program. Teen Court cases are referred by the City of Bryan Municipal Court. The City of Bryan implemented and conducts its Teen Court program at Bryan Independent School District’s high school campus. To the best of the city’s knowledge, no other Teen Court program is operated on a school campus in the State of Texas; few cities across the nation operate campus based Teen Courts.
The national, state and local trends have chronicled a sharp rise in juvenile crimes. While everyone agrees juvenile crime represents a serious threat to the quality of life in communities around the country, little consensus exists regarding the best way to alleviate the problem. Several programs already have proven effective in reducing youth crime. Among these programs is Teen Court, a program that uses the undeniable power of peer pressure as a positive, rather than negative, force to help convince youthful offenders that crime yields serious consequences. Teen Court also provides law enforcement agencies a unique opportunity to help guide at-risk youths away from crime when they are particularly impressionable.
Teens who complete the program re-offend at a much lower rate than youths who are tried and sentenced in the juvenile courts. Teen Court represents a cost-effective alternative to traditional court processing because Teen Court relies on a volunteer base with only one paid full-time staff. While Teen Court is not intended to replace the municipal court, it does offer a highly structured and effective means to guide some youths away from trouble by showing them that criminal activity has both immediate and long-term consequences.
Parental participation is mandatory for Teen Court defendants in that the parent(s) must attend the initial intake and the actual Teen Court hearing; thus giving the teen and the parent a sense of investment towards changing behaviors towards a pro-social value system.
The City of Bryan Teen Court program has a strong and active support system ranging from local judges, local defense attorneys, City of Bryan Police Department, Bryan Independent School District and numerous city officials. By implementing Teen Court, the City is taking an active approach towards improving the livability of its city by reducing juvenile crimes and repeat offenders. Because Teen Court is primarily operated from a volunteer base, it saves the City of Bryan thousands of dollars annually in salaries and fringe benefits; at the same time the City is able to invest in the future adult citizens of the City of Bryan. This innovative public safety initiative is one more way to positively impact the quality of life and enhance, “The Good Life, Texas Style”.