For the first time in Castro Valley High history, Community Youth Courts will be a viable alternative to the traditional juvenile justice system. Youth Courts is a voluntary diversion program that allows teenage offenders to come before a jury of their peers; depending on the specific situation, this is available for first time offenders of misdemeanor or lesser crimes.
“Administrators of the Castro Valley School District will work with the School Resource Officers to review all offenses to determine if specific cases are appropriate for the youth court program,” explained Youth Courts Program Director Karen Holfan.
Should the individual agree to participate in the program, a court date is set for the offender to face a jury of their peers who are student volunteers. The Community Youth Court entitles this jury to sentence the wrongdoer to community service, jury duty, Life Choices class, apologies, and/or restitution while utilizing basic justice principles.
If an offender successfully completes the program, the offender will have no criminal record and receives a Certificate of Completion once all sanctions are complete.
“We offer the offending youth a second chance via restorative justice, peer interaction, and personal growth opportunities. Participating youth learn how to accept the consequences for their actions and gain the knowledge to feel empowered to make responsible choices in their future,” stated Holfan.
Assistant Principal Erica Ehmann supports the Community Youth Courts being used as an intervention for any teenage offenders.
“I think it’s a really valuable option for students making bad decisions,” Ehmann said. “It makes them think of possible real-world consequences. My biggest hope, really, is that it personally benefits the students and will dramatically influence their decisions in the future.”
The main goal of Community Youth Courts is to instigate personal growth. Now, those who may have slipped through the cracks of the juvenile justice system and would have potentially continued their interaction with the criminal justice system well into adulthood are invited to consider this option.
In addition to the students’ personal benefits, the Community Youth Courts aim to affect other students not directly involved with the program.
“It presents more opportunities for our school community to get involved with volunteering,” explained Ehmann. “Students also hearing about how their peers have been affected by it might have a bigger effect on what they decide to do in the future.”