Councilwoman Sara M. González (D-Red Hook/Sunset Park), chair of the Juvenile Justice Committee brought her colleagues from the Council to the Red Hook Community Justice Center for a site visit. Launched in June 2000, the center is the nation’s first multi-jurisdictional community court. The court hears cases from Red Hook, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Windsor Terrace and Sunset Park.
After a roundtable discussion with top administrators and staff of the Center for Court Innovation, which provides an array of alternative services for individuals involved in the city’s justice system, González and her fellow Council members witnessed a mock trial being heard in the Red Hook Youth Court. The Youth Court is a pioneering program that seeks to make young people a part of the solution. Among the unique aspects of this approach is the fact that the cases are prosecuted, defended and heard by peers of the offenders.
Operated by teens aged from 14 to 18, the Youth Court hears cases involving kids from 10 to 18 years old. Cases are referred to the court by local schools, community-based programs, and police precincts as well as judges and probation officers.
Gonzalez commented, “The goal is not to shame the individual but embrace them as a neighbor and modify their behavior while holding them accountable for deviating from their behavior. Over the years the evidence is clear that youth accept advice as well as sanctions far better when delivered by their peers.”
She also visited Justice Alex Calabrese, the presiding judge of the Youth Court.