Neighborhoods get role in youth-offender plan Annapolis and Severn try alternatives to court

November 17, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Bob Rogers is an ordinary Annapolis citizen, but he's also judge and mentor to first-time juvenile offenders in his community in a new program that allows the youths to be judged by their neighbors instead of by the courts.

The Neighborhood Youth Panel -- a statewide program forming in communities in Anne Arundel, Calvert and Montgomery counties -- is being financed by a three-year, $118,638 grant from the state Juvenile Justice Advisory Council of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

"The main thing is to try to keep the kids who shouldn't be in court out of the court," said Rogers, who lives in Eastport.

Rogers is one of about a dozen volunteers trained over the summer for the Annapolis program, which foundered after two meetings for lack of resources. It is starting again thanks to the grant, which was awarded in September.

In what officials call "restorative justice," the program seeks to hold youngsters charged with misdemeanors -- such as petty theft, truancy or carrying a pager in school -- accountable to their communities and victims without giving them criminal records.

It also gives residents a greater role in the lives of neighborhood youths. Not only do panel members determine sanctions or FTC consequences, but they also are mentors who support and monitor the youths to ensure that they complete their punishment. Victims attend the hearings.

"There's not only a desire to hold the youth accountable, but to address the victim's concerns," said Akua N. Zenzele, coordinator for the two Anne Arundel youth panels -- in Annapolis and in Severn along Pioneer Drive.

Rockville in Montgomery and Chesapeake Ranch Estates in Calvert also are forming groups.

Ordinarily, when a youth is charged with a misdemeanor, the police report is forwarded to the Department of Juvenile Justice, which sets up an intake hearing. That begins an official record.

With the Neighborhood Youth Panel, a coordinator contacts accused youths and their parents before the intake hearings, giving them the option of going before the panel instead. To participate, children must be 10 to 17, reside in the community, admit involvement in the crime and agree to abide by the decision of the panel.

If child and parent agree, the panel is likely to hear the case within a few weeks.

Panel members can be creative in sentencing. Among alternatives are work, community service, apologies and better grades.

"The parents learned as much as the kids," Rogers said. " I think it's very beneficial."

Pub Date: 11/17/98

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