Youth Court

Who is Donald P. McCullum?

“The measure of performance and the value of an endeavor is directly related to the obstacle surmounted, the adversity overcome and the sacrifices made by a person.”
— The Honorable Donald P. McCullum (1927-1988)

The Honorable Donald P. McCullum was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, a product of the city’s segregated public school system. Influenced by the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, he became a Civil Rights Attorney and a NAACP activist.

His Honor championed the cause of the disenfranchised, the politically underrepresented, and poor youth as he fought for the civil rights of all people in the 50s, 60s and 70s. He was appointed to the Alameda County Superior Court in 1977. The Federal Building at 1301 Clay Street bears his name and Youth Court is honored to bear his name. We strive to carry on his legacy by fighting to help underserved youth in Alameda County.

What is the history of the Donald P. McCullum Youth Court?

In 1993, a core group of lawyers, youth educators and community members, concerned that first-time juvenile offenders were not being held accountable in the traditional juvenile justice system due to budget constraints, developed the plans for a youth court in Oakland. Following a rigorous planning phase, the Donald P. McCullum Youth Court began operation in the spring of 1994, holding its first hearing in May of that year.

The Youth Court was designed to provide effective and innovative early intervention and diversion services to first-time juvenile offenders in Oakland, as well as an empowering volunteer opportunity for local youth. Utilizing unique youth-led hearing procedures, rehabilitative and community service-based sentences, and referrals to local agencies, Youth Court was established as a restorative justice program. By the end of 1996, Youth Court had served 160 first-time offenders and 135 other “at-risk” youth through its volunteer opportunities.

The Youth Court process begins when a youth in Oakland commits a misdemeanor. Following, the local Police Department may refer him or her to Youth Court, a recognized court under California Penal Code 1001.1.

Youth Court hearings are held at Superior Court where first-time offenders are represented by youth attorneys and tried by juries of their peers. Sentences are designed to hold youth accountable for their actions while providing a positive, meaningful experience. Once an offender successfully completes his or her sentence, he or she is restored record-free to the community.

Since its inception, Youth Court has regularly evaluated its own efficacy through input by youth participants, parents, staff and collaborating agencies; program modifications are then made accordingly. For example, Youth Court created a community vegetable garden as its own community service option, the produce from which is donated to local homeless shelters.

Youth Court also added a mediation component to effectively resolve cases involving restitution, as well as an internship program to serve as an incentive for offenders to successfully complete their sentences. The referral program has also been expanded to more effectively meet the diverse needs of offenders and their families. Furthermore, Youth Court has continued to develop and diversify its network of collaborators in the county as a means of extending its services without replicating existing programs, and of serving its clients in a cost-effective way.

In 1998, Youth Court began an expansion phase that doubled the number of hearings held, doubled the number of youths participating in mediation, and increased the number of volunteer youth interns. In addition, the cities of Alameda and Piedmont were added to the Youth Court program. The Young Women’s Advocacy Program was created as a rehabilitative program to better serve the unique needs of female offenders. Youth Court also expanded into additional offices in order to allow its staff to maximize productivity and to accommodate the increasing number of youth participants.

In the year 2000, Youth Court witnessed a tremendous increase in the number of youth involved. In 1999, approximately 200 peer-court hearings were conducted; in 2000, there were approximately 300. We also added the city of Berkeley to the Youth Court program. The number of volunteers more than doubled, and a new position was created, the Volunteer Coordinator, to coordinate and supervise all youth court volunteers and interns.

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