By Mike McKibbin/NewsBreak Denver
[CASTLE ROCK, CO] Teen Court is coming back to help Castle Rock teen offenders stay on the straight and narrow after the town council voted 7-0 Tuesday night to reinstate the program.
Kristin Read, assistant town manager, said the program was dropped in 2021 due to low case trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. The town did not fill a part-time coordinator position when it became vacant in August.
Teen Court started in Castle Rock in 2017. The nationwide program is an alternative to the traditional justice system for first-time nonviolent juvenile offenders.
It provides volunteer opportunities for youth from 12-18 years of age to serve as jurors on criminal cases involving their peers.
So far in 2022, the town's municipal court had seen 17 juvenile cases that were eligible for Teen Court if it had been operational, Read said.
"We plan to have Teen Court up and running in August, before school starts in the fall," Read said.
Coordinator duties added to court vacancy position
The town was able to reactivate Teen Court by adding the duties of the part-time Teen Court coordinator to a full-time vacancy in the municipal court.
Read said the coordinator would earn an hourly wage of $25 to $30 and receive full benefits.
"The municipal court budget has the funds to cover this position," she said.
The program will recruit teen volunteers, who must complete 16 hours of general legal training in July. Before the pandemic, 15 teens participated.
"A great little jewel"
Marsha Alston, with the Douglas County Youth Initiative, noted the communities of Parker, Lone Tree and Castle Rock had Teen Court programs. All were dropped for similar reasons around the same time, and efforts continue to reinstate the programs in the other two communities.
"This is a wonderful program with a restorative justice piece," Alston said. "These have always been a shining star among these town's programs. It's a great little jewel."
Suzanne Burkholder, a volunteer adult case manager for the Teen Court program, noted it benefits other stakeholders such as parents and businesses.
"It opens communication with the parental involvement portion and teens have to take complete responsibility for their actions," she said. "There's no passing the buck. It's a 6-9 month process to set things right with the businesses, too."
Burkholder said teens who complete the program become very confident and demonstrate leadership qualities within their communities and schools.
"Anything we can do to benefit the youth of Douglas County to lift them up and support them is great," said Joshua Rivero, a Parker town councilman. "And I want to point out that as the county seat, it's important Castle Rock take the lead on this."
Rivero also noted teens learn possible vocational skills through legal training and serving as jurists.
Castle Rock Mayor Jason Gray noted the Teen Court program "might not have been used as it could have been in the past. But perhaps we can restart it in a good way and benefit our teens, youth, adults and the police department."