‘Turning A (Non) Profit: How Non-Profits Benefit Our Community’ is an occasional series from 91.5 KRCC. There are thousands of non-profit organizations in El Paso county alone. Some are fairly well known, many are not. 91.5 KRCC would like to introduce you to some of the lesser known organizations, and help you discover some things you may not have known about the more familiar groups. On this occasion, Chloe Brooks-Kistler has a look at Teen Court.
For twenty-five years, Colorado Springs Teen Court has been a beacon of hope for at-risk teens in the Colorado Springs area who find themselves facing their first misdemeanor offenses. Full disclosure: during my high school years, I was a volunteer at Colorado Springs Teen Court, and I can personally attest that this organization has helped me gain many skills, such as public speaking, problem solving, and people skills.
Teen Court not only helps the teens who go through the program facing legal trouble, but the teens who dedicate their time to volunteering also gain from the organization. Morgan Mote is the Executive Director of Teen Court. She says the largest impact that Teen Court has on the community is changing the youth that is going to be tomorrow’s leaders.
The program uses the model of restorative justice in order to combat juvenile crime, providing "an opportunity for those most affected by a crime (i.e., the victims, the community, and the offender) to be directly involved in the justice process."
And that process is not easy. The offender must "accept responsibility for his/her actions and the harm those actions caused others; as well as take action to repair that harm.”
Those who go through Teen Court are given community service opportunities to repair the damage done by their crime. From these community service experiences, the thought is that they will learn skills to help their self-esteem and problem-solving skills.
One thing that is clear is that without the student volunteers, Teen Court would not be the program it is today. The main point behind Teen Court is that the teens who are on trial, either at an actual court trial or just at a peer panel, are being sentenced by their own teen peers. This unique approach seeks to make the teens on trial feel more comfortable than if they were facing adults laying down consequences. This program is desgined to make the teens realize they will not be defined by their crime for the rest of their lives and they can attempt to restore the damage that has been done.
Local adult volunteers are also a backbone to the organization.
Local attorneys take time out of their busy schedules to help mentor student attorneys; the local police department helps to structure classes for the defendants to complete. Average citizens of the community take time to help the defendants in a plethora of ways.
Morgan Mote, Executive Director of Teen Court, shared a story of how a volunteer was able to help a teen find confidence in himself during an activity in his Teen Court issued life skills class.
“We had a community member sit down and really work with him on: what is it about you that is important?” she explains.
This defendant was able to create a resume shining light on the positive aspects this community member helped him realize about himself. It was empowering to witness that, Mote says.
Ninety percent of all teens who go through the teen court system complete the community service hours and projects they were given to fit their specific needs. After completing the program, their misdemeanour offense is then expunged off of their record. “
Right now Teen Court has a reoffense rate of only seven percent,” says Eric Groskopf olunteer and Operations Director.
In the traditional court system, juveniles have a reoffense rate of around forty to fifty percent.
I also interviewed two student volunteers, Tierra Burke and Eric Pittman, to see how they view the organization and how it has helped them personally. Burke and Pittman have done teen court peer panels and have been bailiffs for the trials Teen Court holds.
Both said the program is an impactful way for them to help their community. Burke's favorite part of being a teen court volunteer is being able to be a bailiff because she gets to supervise the jurors, who are also past defendants of the program, and listen to their ideas on sentencing. Pittman says that Colorado Springs Teen Court helps with character building and teaches those who are involved in the program, in any way, “what is right and wrong and what you should and shouldn’t do.”
Colorado Springs Teen Court has successfully made a lasting positive impact on the Colorado Springs community these past twenty-five years. The program is always in need of more student and adult volunteers. For more information on the program please visit csteencourt.org, and for more information on restorative justice visit csteencourt.org/index.php/about/restorative-justice.