Brownsville Youth Court
The Brownsville Youth Court trains teenagers to serve as jurors, judges and advocates, handling real-life cases involving their peers. The goal of the Brownsville Youth Court is to use positive peer pressure to ensure that young people who have committed minor offenses restore harm done to the community and receive the help they need to avoid further involvement in the justice system. The Brownsville Youth Court hears a range of low-level crimes referred by the New York Police Department, the New York City Department of Probation, and the New York City Law Department (presentment agency for New York City Family Court). The majority of cases that come to the Brownsville Youth Court are for theft and assault.
The Brownsville Youth Court is part of the Brownsville Community Justice Center. For more information about the Brownsville Community Justice Center, click here.
How It Works
The Brownsville Youth Court is a program for young people aged 10 – 18 referred by local schools, police officers, probation officers and family court for offenses such as curfew violations, vandalism, disorderly conduct and truancy. These young people appear before a judge and jury of their peers – other neighborhood teens – who determine fair and appropriate responses. Before the Youth Court hearing, the referred youth – the “respondent” – meets with his or her “Youth Advocate,” a young person who represents the respondent throughout the case. During the hearing, the respondent tells his/her story and is questioned by members of the jury. Unlike in a traditional court, the purpose of the jury’s questioning is not just to learn more about the offense, but to understand better what led to the incident, how the respondent feels about his/her experience, and to prompt the respondent to reflect on his/her behavior. After considering all of the information and the respondent’s personal strengths, the jury decides on a fair and appropriate sanction that holds the youth accountable, restores harm done to the community, and assists the youth to avoid trouble in the future. Brownsville Youth Court staff members closely monitor the completion of sanctions and then report back to the referral source. Most cases move through this process, from intake to resolution, in two months, depending on the respondents’ ability to complete sanctions in a timely manner.
The Brownsville Youth Court is a restorative justice program that emphasizes:
Responsibility: The Brownsville Youth Court teaches young people that actions have consequences. Because this message comes from other young people, it is more likely to be heard and understood. The youth court process asks respondents to reflect on their actions and understand how their behavior affects others around them.
Restoring the Community: Brownsville Youth Court members care about their community and expect the same from their peers. Respondents are often sanctioned to restore the harm done to their community through service, apologies and other actions. For example, youth have been sanctioned to help plant trees in local parks, help community groups set up for local events, and assist in local activities for younger children.
Help: The Brownsville Youth Court links young people and their families to services such as counseling, and provides workshops to help youths make better decisions and avoid future involvement with the justice system.
Leadership: The Brownsville Youth Court teaches young people how to be leaders. Members are trained in group-decision making, critical thinking and public speaking. The program provides a positive opportunity for young people to engage with judges, lawyers, criminal justice officials and the court system. In addition to this, youths who have successfully gone through the youth court program as respondents are encouraged to become members.
Since opening in May 2011, the Brownsville Youth Court has heard over 300 cases. Ninety percent of respondents completed their sanctions as ordered, including 1500 hours of community service. Every year, more than 40 young people serve as judges, jurors and advocates.
The Brownsville Youth Court opened in March 2012, and takes cases from the neighborhoods of the Brownsville, Ocean-Hill, East New York and surrounding neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Brownsville Youth Court partners include the New York Police Department, the New York City Department of Probation, the New York City Law Department, Brownsville Partnership, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, True Holy Church, and Hope Center Development Corp.