Red Hook Youth Court
The Red Hook Youth Court trains teenagers to serve as jurors, judges and advocates, handling real-life cases involving their peers. The goal of the Red Hook 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 Red Hook Youth Court hears a range of low-level crimes referred by New York Police Department, the New York City Department of Probation, the New York City Law Department (presentment agency for New York City Family Court), Family Court, and Criminal Court. The majority of cases that come to the Red Hook Youth Court are for larceny, truancy, and assault.
The Red Hook Youth Court is part of the Red Hook Community Justice Center. For more information about the Red Hook Community Justice Center, click here."
How It Works
The Red Hook Youth Court is a program for young people aged 10 – 18 referred by local schools, police officers, probation officers and criminal court for offenses such as curfew violations, vandalism, disorderly conduct, larceny, assault 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. Red Hook 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 one to two months, depending on the respondents’ ability to complete sanctions in a timely manner.
The Red Hook Youth Court is a restorative justice program that emphasizes:
Responsibility: The Red Hook 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: Red Hook 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 Red Hook 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 Red Hook 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.
In 2011, Red Hook Youth Court heard 146 cases. Over 90 percent of respondents completed their sanctions as ordered, including 800 hours of community service. Every year, more than 30 young people serve as judges, jurors and advocates.
The Red Hook Youth Court was launched in 1998, and takes cases from local neighborhoods such as Red Hook, Park Slope, Sunset Park, Gowanus, Cobble Hill, Windsor Terrace, and Wyckoff. Red Hook Youth Court partners include the Kings County District Attorney’s Office and Good Shepherd’s Services, Red Hook’s largest social service provider. Other partners include the New York Police Department, Legal Aid Society, Visitation Church, the New York City Department of Probation, Brooklyn Law Department, Brooklyn Defenders Service, the New York City Housing Authority, Brooklyn Bar Association, the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice, New York City Parks Department, Brooklyn Greenway Initiative and Groundswell Community Mural Project.