Bellevue Youth Court, where juvenile offenders will be sentenced by a judge and jury of their peers, will operate its first session Tuesday, Jan 29, at 6 p.m. in Bellevue Council Chambers at Bellevue City Hall, 450-110th Ave. N.E.
Bellevue's is the first youth court in King County where misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases are handled. One of just two such juvenile courts in Washington, the Youth Court is modelled after Whatcom County's Teen Court, which officials there link to a sharp decline in recidivism among second-time juvenile offenders.
"Peer pressure can exert a positive influence on teen behavior by providing a meaningful and immediate effect upon the offender," said Cathy Beaty of Northwest Youth Services, which coordinates Whatcom County's program.
Bellevue Youth Court is a three-year pilot project,with high school students trained by professionals to perform court duties. Thirty to 40 student volunteers will serve at each session as judges, jurors, baliffs, clerks, prosecutors and defense advocates/attorneys.
The program will primarily serve second-time offenders and, in its first year, will sentence misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases. Other youth courts in the region focus on truancy, grafitti or traffic school.
Bellevue Youth Court respondents are referred for sentencing by King County Diversion Court. In order for a respondent's case to be sentenced by Bellevue Youth Court, the respondent must admit responsibility for their actions and agree to be sentenced by this court of their peers. The Youth Court is required to sentence respondents under King County Diversion program guidelines, which includes a provision that the respondent must complete disposition within six months.
The program is funded by Bellevue Youth Link, which will contribute up to $50,000 over the three years. Bellevue Youth Link initiated the program in 2003 and also manages the Bellevue Youth Court volunteer program. Court coordination services are provided by Youth Eastside Services and are supervised by Bellevue Probation Services. The program is authorized by King County Superior Court and the state.
Other program partners include: King County Juvenile Court, King County Prosecutor's Office, King County Diversion Program, Bellevue School District and Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts. Community attorneys, including some City of Bellevue attorneys will also serve as mentors to teen volunteer attorneys.
The court will operate on the "restorative justice" model, a national initiative of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention that seeks to provide for accountability, competency development and community safety.
An independent professional program evaluation will be conducted at the conclusion of the pilot program.
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