Teen Courts Begin 11th Year in Talbot County

Talbot County’s Teen Court program addresses the high risk of problematic behavior among Talbot County youth. The program provides early diversion for youth with first-time, minor offenses, often alcohol and tobacco violations. Teen Courtsin Talbot County recently began their 11th year of service to the community under the direction of Reid Ward, Teen Court Coordinator. Judge Broughton Earnest addressed the youth participants at the opening session, which was held in the Circuit Court.

Teen Court provides consequences to reinforce the fact that negative behavior will not be tolerated. It provides opportunities for pro-social activities and social restitution in the community to steer youth away from the streets and delinquent activity, and it provides referrals to services to address substance abuse as well as mental health or educational needs. Talbot County’s Teen Court currently serves approximately 48 to 60 students per year. The program has a very successful track record with a recidivism rate of less than 13 percent.

Teen courts are staffed by youth volunteers from Easton and St. Michaels High Schools who serve in various capacities within the program, trained and acting in the roles of jurors, lawyers, bailiffs, clerks and judges. Most teen courts are sentencing courts in which the offender has already admitted guilt or pled no contest. The Talbot County teen court operates much like a traditional court, holding hearings before a judge and jury with the jury deliberating to determine an appropriate disposition. Court is held in the Talbot County Courthouse.

Often, Teen Court sentences will involve the defendant’s making restitution to someone harmed or inconvenienced by their actions, or creating an informational awareness project about health, safety, respect, or another topic relevant to the offense. One of the more common sentences is community service. In many jury-based programs it is mandatory that the offender serve on a teen court jury. In some cases, educational workshops are required as part of the sentence, usually in cases involving alcohol or drug charges.

Current funding for Teen Court has been provided from The State of Maryland, through a grant from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. This grant expires June 30, 2009 and was a “one time only” grant, although use of the remaining funding for the current grant has been extended to December 31, 2009. Talbot Partnership, which serves as the fiscal agent for Teen Court, is looking to find individuals, local businesses, community foundations, service organizations, and the faith community to assist with keeping this important program in place. If you are interested in supporting Teen Court, please contact Talbot Partnership at 410-819-8067 or info@talbotpartnership.org.