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Step One: Incident
Step Two: Referral
Step Three: Case Development
Step Four: Pre-Hearing Conference
Step Five: Hearing Preparation
Step Six: Hearing
Step Seven: Post-Sentencing Conference
Step Eight: Sentence Completion
Step Nine: Parent Program

Step One: Incident

When the Police Departments in Alameda, Berkeley, Oakland or Piedmont are called to the scene of a crime involving a juvenile, they may choose to either make an arrest or do
a “counsel and release” at the site. If they counsel and release the offender, they may choose to complete a police report and/or a 606 juvenile record. After a report is filed,
it is reviewed by the Youth Services Division Administrative Sergeant.

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Step Two: Referral

The Youth Services Division Administrative Sergeant can assign a juvenile’s case to an Investigating Officer for information and follow-up, or he or she can close it. After the Investigating Officer reviews the case, it may be referred to an alternative program such as Youth Court. In order to determine eligibility for the Youth Court program, the Investigating Officer runs a criminal records check to determine if the offender has any prior arrests, and whether the offense meets Youth Court criteria. Appropriate offenses for referral include but are not limited to: petty theft, vandalism, possession of alcohol and marijuana, assault and battery, and trespassing. If the youth is eligible, the Investing Officer refers the case to Youth Court in person or by mail.

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Step Three: Case Development

The Program Coordinators of Alameda, Berkeley and Oakland, responsible for the pre-hearing, adjudication and case management processes, regularly receive cases from their respective Police Departments. They then read through the reports to make certain they are suitable for Youth Court. Once they are familiar with each case, the parent/guardian of each offender is contacted. Often the parent has not been made aware of the incident involving their child or the ensuing police report. Once the parent has been informed of the crime, the Program Coordinator schedules a pre-hearing conference with the youth and his or her parents/guardians.

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Step Four: Pre-Hearing Conference

The pre-hearing conference typically takes place at the Alameda, Berkeley or Oakland Police Departments’ Youth Services Divisions. At this meeting, the Program Coordinator explains the Youth Court process to the parent/guardian and child, answers any questions they might have, and reviews with them the details of the case. Some parents are initially reluctant to accept either that their child was involved in the incident, or that the situation was serious. It is the job of the Program Coordinator to encourage the parent and the youth that it is in their best interest to handle the case through Youth Court as the child will avoid a criminal record and prevent future offenses. Holding the youth accountable for his or her actions immediately after the first offense strongly deters the youth from becoming caught up in the cycle of crime, with each subsequent offense increasingly frequent and violent. By the conclusion of the pre-hearing conference, the overwhelming majority of parents and youth agree that Youth Court is in fact their best option. At this time, the participants and their parents sign consent forms to participate in the program and a hearing date is scheduled.

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Step Five: Hearing Preparation

Once a hearing has been scheduled, the Program Coordinator gives a copy of the police report – with the last names and contact information of the involved persons blacked out – to the volunteer prosecution and defense attorneys assigned to the case so they can prepare their arguments. The Program Staff works with the volunteer attorneys to prepare and improve their opening statements, closing arguments and witness examination questions. It is also the responsibility of the Program Staff to properly train the attorneys and jurors. Attorney trainings are held on a regular basis throughout the school year in order to positively engage youth, and so that a pool of trained attorneys are always available for hearings.

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Step Six: Hearing

Hearings take place every other Wednesday from 5:15 to 9pm at the Wiley Emanuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland. Each hearing is presided over by a volunteer adult “judge” who facilitates the process. The hearing begins with the process of voir dire in which the Judge asks a series of questions to the jury in order to ensure that all jurors are unbiased and will make fair decisions regarding sentencing. Both the prosecution and defense attorneys then make opening statements and the offender takes the stand to offer his or her account of the incident. Both the jury and the attorneys then ask witness examination questions regarding the incident, followed by closing statements given by both the prosecution and defense. Finally, the jury leaves the room to deliberate on the most appropriate, constructive sentence. There are two mandatory sentence components: serving on at least one jury duty but not more than three, and attending either two Conflict Resolution workshops (males) or the Young Women’s Advocacy Program (females). Discretionary sentence components include community service (5-60 hours), restitution, writing an essay and/or a letter of apology, attending a Theft Awareness class and/or Anger Management workshops, and additional counseling.

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Step Seven: Post-Sentencing Conference

After the hearing, the offender and his or her parent/guardian meet with the Program Coordinator who reviews the verdict form. If required by the jury, community service options are discussed and the offender is assigned to either workdays at the Youth Court Community Garden, or to another community social service agency. At this time, the Program Coordinator may also make referrals to local agencies for additional support such as counseling, summer jobs, tutoring, emergency food or housing and after-school care. Referrals continue throughout the offender’s participation in the program – and many times even after the youth has completed his or her sentence.

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Step Eight: Sentence Completion

The primary functions of the Program Coordinator in sentence completion are to create, monitor, enforce and evaluate Youth Court sentencing components. These components are designed to be restorative – to repair the harm caused by problem behavior and to rebuild relationships among offenders, offenders’ families, victims, and the community. Below is an explanation of each sentence component and the process by which it is fulfilled.

Mandatory Sentence Components:

– Jury Duty
Every offender is required to serve jury duty at least once but no more than three times. This experience enables the offender to redefine his or her role in the juvenile justice process, seeing him or herself as a positive change agent rather than a victim or enemy of the system. The offenders have an opportunity to see that their voice counts and that they can make a difference in other youths’ lives. Even those youth who are initially reluctant to participate begin to ask questions and take leading roles in the deliberation process by the second or third hearing of the night.

– Conflict Resolution Workshops/Young Women’s Advocacy Program
Like jury duty, all offenders must attend either two Conflict Resolution workshops (males) or four Young Women’s Advocacy Program classes (females). In order to provide the best workshop at the least expense, Youth Court formed a partnership with the Victim Offenders Reconciliation Program to provide peer-led Conflict Resolution classes on two consecutive Saturdays each month. During the two four-hour workshops, offenders learn important skills to help them resolve conflicts in a positive, non-violent way.
The Young Women’s Advocacy Program was designed to meet the unique needs of female offenders. In order to address these needs, a partnership was formed with Yahweh Enterprises to create a culturally sensitive forum in which female offenders are given necessary tools to address their own social, emotional and mental health issues. The program aims to reduce young women’s risky behaviors and their chances of further negative involvement in the juvenile justice system. The two-hour Young Women’s Advocacy Program classes take place on four consecutive Saturdays on a cyclical basis.

Discretionary Sentencing Options:

– Community Service
Offenders may be assigned between 5 and 60 hours of community service. The average sentence is between 20 and 35 hours. The purpose of the community service component is to allow the offender to make amends for the damage done to the community and to become engaged in the community in a meaningful way. Moreover, this experience is designed to be an opportunity for learning and confidence building. All participants have three choices for completing their service hours. First, if they are already involved with a youth group, church or community center, they may continue involvement by doing a special service project for that organization. This will serve to strengthen their connection to and involvement in that organization.
Second, if the youth is not interested in a particular organization but has expressed an interest in getting involved with something in their immediate community, the Program Coordinator will work to find an organization near their school or home that is of interest to the youth. The supervisor at that partnering organization plays a large role in the success of the placement, working with the offender individually, offering them positive feedback and building their self-esteem.
The third option for community service is participation in Youth Court Community Garden workdays at Lake Merrit on Fridays and Saturdays. Workday projects have also included working at Alameda County Community Food Bank, Tibetan Aid, Strong Roots Gardens, Spiral Gardens, Willard Greening Project, Clean-a-Creek, Project Teamwork and 4H After-School Program. Currently, workdays are primarily held at the Youth Court Community Garden where the Workday Supervisor, youth offenders, and student and adult volunteers work together to make a positive contribution to the community.

– Restitution
The jury can order the offender to pay restitution to the victim. If restitution is assigned, the offender and his or her family are referred to the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program for mediation. If the family has difficulty paying for the damages, a restitution plan is arranged.

– Letter of Apology
Many times the jury will ask the youth to write a letter of apology to the victim, the victim’s family, the offender’s parents or other involved participants. This letter is always sent to Youth Court first so that it can be added to the offender’s file and logged into the computer database. The letter is then forwarded to the intended recipient. Youth are given no more than two weeks to finish a letter of apology.

– Essay
The jury may also ask the offender to write an essay to the victim or the victim’s family reflecting on their involvement in the incident and how they might handle a similar situation differently in the future. The essay, like the letter of apology, is first sent to Youth Court to be added to the offender’s file and logged into the computer database. It is then forwarded to the intended recipient. Youth are given no more than two weeks to finish an essay.

– Theft Awareness Class
Theft Awareness Class is a three-hour course that takes place once a month at the Youth Court office. The class focuses on the reasons why youth commit petty theft offenses and teaches skills to act differently when the same set of circumstances arises again.

– Anger Management Workshops
The Victim Offender Reconciliation Program is also responsible for the instruction of two four-hour Anger Management workshops. Held on two consecutive Saturdays approximately every other month, this class is designed to teach youth skills to deal responsibly with stress and frustration. The class focuses on ways to avoid confrontational situations, manage negative emotions, and develop alternative behavioral patterns.

– Additional Counseling
If the jury recommends additional counseling, the Program Coordinator works with the family to find appropriate, free counseling options.

Improved Sentence Compliance Components

It has become increasingly clear in the last few years that a court-mandated sentence must be accompanied by programs designed to improve sentence completion. As Youth Court has processed a greater number of cases, patterns in the external factors that either facilitate or impair offender compliance have emerged. New programs such as the Paid Internship Program, Young Women’s Advocacy Program, Parent Group, Theft Awareness class, Anger Management workshops, and referrals to community agencies have grown out of Youth Court data collection. Not only are these programs designed to improve offender compliance, but they are also designed to decrease youth recidivism rates.

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Step Nine: Parent Program

This group is designed to address the needs of the parents and guardians of Youth Court participants. The Director of Youth Services and a youth services referral specialist offer information and referral services in Alameda County that are free or low-cost. Parents are asked to fill out a program evaluation so that Youth Court can continually assess the needs of the parents, youth and families in the program and make improvements accordingly. This is the final step in the Youth Court process.

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