'Teen court' is scheduled to convene in January at Glen Burnie courthouse Alternative justice system for relatively mild offenses

November 13, 1997|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Teen court, an alternative justice system for young people who get into trouble, is set to open in the Glen Burnie District Courthouse in January.

County police officers made a final round of community visits this week to explain the teen court to residents of Severna Park and Pasadena, where the program might have the greatest impact.

The program, modeled after 250 other teen courts nationwide -- including the only existing Maryland program, in Montgomery County -- is a pseudo-court created for and run by teens.

Teens charged with misdemeanors for the first time can clear their records if they agree to plead guilty and face the teen court, which acts largely as a sentencing board. All parties involved -- the accused, the accused's parents, the victim and the Department of Juvenile Justice -- must agree that the court is the best place for the teen.

Funded by a federal grant, Anne Arundel's teen court is making its debut under the direction of the Police Department's Eastern District. Investigations from that district will supply the court's caseload. If successful, the program will be expanded to other parts of the county.

Volunteer teens instructed by volunteer county lawyers will act as prosecutors, defense attorneys and jurors for the court. An adult volunteer county judge will preside. Charged teens must testify before juries of their peers, who will decide on punishments that might include community service, reimbursement and writing an essay about lessons learned.

Teens who appear before the court must also do jury duty in other teens' "trials" as part of their sentences.

If they do not complete their sentences, their cases go back to the Department of Justice, and they will be tried as juvenile offenders. Teens can opt out of teen court at any time.

Lt. Ronald Bateman, who runs the program with Officer Donald Higdon, said almost two dozen people, including lawyers and judges, have signed up to help.

The officers are continuing to promote the program to community groups and are looking for nonprofit, community-based groups willing to supervise offenders as they perform their community service.

Bateman told Greater Severna Park Council that the idea behind the teen court was to have offenders atone in the communities where they had committed their offenses. "Public floggings may be out, but picking up trash along Mountain Road is not," he said.

Odessa, Texas, opened the first teen court 15 years ago to take pressure off an overburdened and expensive juvenile justice system. The cost of sending a teen, even one charged with minor offenses, through the system is $3,000.

In counties such as Anne Arundel, faced with increasing teen crime, teen court has been a welcome idea. Last year, teen offenses in Pasadena and Severna Park accounted for 26 percent of the county's crime.

"I think people are looking forward to it as an alternative," said Larry Masterson, president of the Greater Severna Park Council, "particularly here with regard to graffiti and mailbox vandalism."

Carolyn Roeding, president of the Greater Pasadena Council, said Pasadena residents also like the idea of teen court, although some worried about liability if, for example, a teen is hurt while performing community service for an organization.

Bateman said the officers plan to have the teens and their parents sign waivers freeing organizations from such liability. Details of the waiver are being ironed out.

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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