The time-honored right of a fair trial by a jury of one’s peers will take on new meaning with the creation of the Canyons District Peer Court.
A model of restorative justice embraced in communities across the country, peer courts function much like any court of law. Judges are authorized to mediate disputes and mete out justice to right criminal wrongs. Except with peer courts, students are trained to hear cases involving violations of school or district policy, and authorized to decide the fate of their peers.
The Canyons Peer Court will be the second youth, or teen, court in Utah sponsored by a school district. It will hear its first case with the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
Soon-to-be sophomores, juniors and seniors interested in volunteering to serve on the inaugural panel of judges are encouraged to apply by May 20, 2020.
“It’s a time commitment of two Wednesday evenings per month, but panel members are eligible for school credit. It’s a great resume-builder and opportunity to learn about civics and the American justice system first-hand,” says CSD Responsive Services Administrator Charisse Hilton. “Youth courts give students a voice, experience with leadership, and a chance to serve their community.”
Peer courts practice the restorative justice model for holding students accountable for minor offenses, such as, fighting, vandalism, or shoplifting. It’s viewed as a more effective path to justice than suspending students or expelling them from school, which can put students at higher risk for dropping out or being referred for more serious crimes to the juvenile justice system.
“This isn’t about being soft on crime. Peer courts are sentencing courts and the sentences handed down are binding,” Hilton says. “Admission of guilt is a prerequisite of participation. Students must accept responsibility for their actions before they can avail themselves of this option.”
In weighing their sentencing, peer court judges focus, not just on punishment, but on what harm has been done, who has been harmed, and what can be done to repair the harm. Common sentences might be to repair a vandalized object, return stolen goods, write letters of apology, perform community service, or even serve on the court’s panel of judges.
Successful models have been shown to reduce recidivism and instill within youth an appreciation for the law.
Peer Court Judging Panel Requirements
- You must be in 10th-12th grade for the 2020-2021 school year.
- You must be enrolled in a Canyons District high school.
- You must commit to attending Peer Court the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month.
- You must complete 20 hours of training (this will be provided in the summer) prior to being on the court.
- You must pass a criminal background check.
- Your parents must endorse your application.
- Your school counselor must endorse your application.