The Colorado Springs Teen Court peer program has helped 9,000 juvenile offenders since 1994. The first-time offenders, ages 10 to 18, had pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and chose restorative justice in front of peers instead of the Juvenile Court system.
For the Teen Court staff and teen volunteers, each young offender is “a person, a face, a name, a story. Not a number,” Executive Director Morgan Mote told a 25th anniversary luncheon audience.
This year alone, 330 youths “are turning their lives around,” Mote told the 500 attendees at the DoubleTree by Hilton. “They’re being held accountable and learning to make better choices.” They’re learning life skills, how to prepare for the job market and how to never have contact with the system again.
Attorney General Phil Weiser applauded the nonprofit program’s innovative and collaborative solutions. It says to the young people, “We support you,” Weiser said. He and other speakers noted that over three years, 50 percent of people imprisoned are back behind bars. Of those juveniles completing Teen Court in front of juries of their peers, only 7 percent reoffend.
A drug and alcohol awareness panel is part of the program. An increase of teens in the system with marijuana issues added a grant-funded training on pot, its effects and the legal ramifications. As one speaker noted, “Just say ‘no’ no longer works.”
Anniversary-year awards went to those who have helped Teen Court succeed. The David William Enoch Award, named for the judge considered the founding father of local Teen Court, went to Presiding Municipal Judge HayDen William Kane II “for a quarter century of guidance and making it possible for space for the Teen Court’s work.”
The Commitment Awards went to the Colorado Springs Police Department and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office school resource officers. Board chair Bill Walsh noted that law enforcement usually is first to interact with young offenders. School resource officers know their school’s kids and families, and some volunteer to go with them to their sentencing. Students and officers recently even played dodgeball.
Walsh, an 18-year police officer and 12-year volunteer with Teen Court, received the Founder’s Award. The Mitchell grad is the SRO at Cheyenne Mountain High School.
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