Photo Essay: A Court System That 'Saves Lives'
About 150 youth, attorneys, educators and officials flocked to a seminar in Albany last week to celebrate an alternative way for dealing with teen delinquency.
The event was sponsored by the Northern District U.S. Attorney's Office, the New York State Bar Association's Special Committee on Youth Courts and the Association of New York State Youth Courts. September is National Youth Court month.
There are more than 80 active youth courts in New York state; they date back to at least 1962, with the creation of a youth court in Tompkins County. The courts are designed to take over the cases of youth, generally between the ages of 15 and 18, who admit to first-time, minor, non-violent crimes such as truancy, fighting vandalism and shoplifting.
Presided over by lawyers or, in some cases, individual teens or panels of teens who are supervised by volunteer attorneys, the courts generally impose community service, restitution and other penalties such as writing letters of apology to victims. The records of the proceedings are typically sealed if the youth complete their punishments.
Supporters say that teenagers who go through the courts are less likely to get into trouble in the future than those who go through the traditional court system.
"They make a difference in the lives of children, of families and communities all across New York," said former Chief Judge Judith Kaye, who is of counsel to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
The morning program at the State Bar Center featured a variety of workshops on best practices for the courts. In the afternoon, a mock trial was staged at the Albany federal courthouse by participants in local youth courts.
The proceeding concerned the theft of a cellphone from the backpack of a student. The guilty party was sentenced to 25 hours' community service, including five hours as a juror in proceedings involving other students in Youth Court, and to write letters of apology to the owner of the cell phone, the police detective who investigated the theft and the perpetrator's own mother.
Pictured are, at top, Chirag Bhatia, 16, of the Colonie Youth Court, who adopts an appropriately stern mien as the judge, assisted by Claire Forsyth, 17, who was his clerk.
Annina Van Riper, 16, of the Bethlehem Youth Court, below left, was the prosecutor, and Jared Alpern, 16, of the Colonie Youth Court, presented the defense.
At bottom, the jurors listen to the evidence. Seated in the front row, from left, are Kaye; Albany Family Court Judge Gerard Maney, Northern District Chief Judge Gary Sharpe, Northern District Judge Mae D'Agostino and attorney Stephen Younger, of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, a former president of the state bar.
In the back row are Magistrate Judge Christian Hummel, U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian and Bernard Malone, a former justice of the Appellate Division, Third Department.
Story by Joel Stashenko, photos by Tim Roske