In October 2002, New Bedford Youth Court became the first recognized Youth Court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Currently there are over 1,050 Youth Courts operating nationally. Youth Courts are based on the principles of restorative justice and act as an alternative to traditional juvenile justice systems. Typical Respondents are first time offenders who have committed misdemeanor crimes and the youth court serves as a sentencing hearing for juvenile respondents. At this hearing respondents acknowledge the harm they have caused and agree to accept a set of sanctions determined by a peer jury. The ultimate goal of the sanctions provided by the peer jury is to help the respondent build necessary skills that will help them reconnect with their community in a more positive way.
The NBYC is overseen by Positive Action Against Chemical Addiction, Inc. (PAACA), a grass roots community based non-profit organization, dedicated to providing quality youth programming and prevention services. Additionally, NBYC is governed by a volunteer Advisory Board comprised of 15 community organizations and agencies such as schools, police, court personnel and other youth program providers. The advisory board assisted in the formation of the mission, governing by-laws and meets regularly to address NBYC's progress and growth. NBYC maintains a diverse funding portfolio that has allowed it to grow and continue to provide quality programming and service. These funders include support from federal, state and local program's such as the Executive Office of Public Safety Byrne's Grant Program, The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Department of Education, City of New Bedford Invest in kids and more.
NBYC has successfully been hearing cases since October 2002. We average between 80 to 100 cases per year. Youth offenders range from 12 to 18. Some offenses include: school related acts, disorderly conduct, shoplifting, larceny and simple assault. Sanctions (or punishments) include community service, after school programming, tutoring, mentoring, self help support groups, clinical assessments, apologies, curfews and more.
NBYC has realized a significantly high compliance rate. This success can best be attributed to the following factors. Case managers assigned to each respondent who monitor their compliance throughout the 120 day sanction period by working with the schools, providing school based visits, weekly communication with families and frequent interaction with the respondent. In addition, youth Court has developed a wide range of constructive sanctioning that helps young people develop basic life skills necessary tools and coping mechanisms that have shown to redirect their prior behaviors in a more positive way.