At the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, a lot of focus has been put on restorative approaches to juvenile justice, and one program that is becoming increasingly popular is Teen Court. This program gives young adults the opportunity to actively participate in a “peer-to-peer decision making process for youth who violate the law.” Youth volunteers serve in all facets of the courtroom as judges, prosecution and defense attorneys, and the jury. The courtroom functions similarly as it would in normal operations, with hearings held at the Juvenile Court building – including questioning of the defendant from both the teen prosecution and defense attorneys.
After the trial has completed, the teen jury determines a fair and constructive sentence. The options for this sentence include community service and participation in future Teen Court sessions, as well as counseling and writing letters of apology to victims. The program emphasizes restorative justice and trying to fix damage in the community, while holding youth offenders responsible for their actions, utilizing what they call “positive peer pressure.”
For our final media project in Media for Health and Wellbeing at Tulane University, we decided to create a podcast discussing Teen Court, as well as a larger conversation about the state of juvenile justice and juvenile justice reform.
“We’re taking negative peer pressure and turning it into positive peer pressure … it’s all about making a difference – that’s what it’s all about.”
These quotes are from our interview with Dr. Clarence J. Bickham, who has been with the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court for the better part of the last decade, and now works as the Teen Court program coordinator. He was more than happy to speak with us and educate us, our class, and the New Orleans area on the broader topic of juvenile justice reform. It was an absolute pleasure to speak with Dr. Bickham, as well as our other guest H.W. Taylor, and we greatly appreciate their time.
We began our conversation by asking Dr. Bickham to detail his previous experiences in juvenile justice, and then discussed his current role in the program and the program’s structure and results. He described how the Orleans Parish Teen Court was founded, its daily operations, and his view of its effect on the New Orleans community through restorative justice. Mr. Taylor was able to provide us with a few key definitions, which worked to contextualize Dr. Bickham’s answers in the world of juvenile justice.
Focusing on Teen Court for our final project has allowed us to better understand alternative forms of executing juvenile justice programs, and what works when the threat of incarceration is taken out of the equation and more constructive forms of justice are utilized. This program is the next step in better understanding how to bring communities closer together after an offense instead of pulling families apart. Amazingly, Teen Court allows youth offenders to understand why their actions were wrong in a more friendly, peer-focused environment, as well as give them an opportunity to mend their relationship through community service, apology letters, and similar sentences. We hope that people who believe that youth offenders should be educated, rather than punished, are very interested to learn about this program and potentially want to become involved through volunteer opportunities, further helping Teen Court succeed in its approach to juvenile justice reform.
On May 15, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Teen Court will hold its first training session under new District Attorney Jason Williams at the Orleans Parish Juvenile Justice Center, and they are always incredibly accepting of all volunteers. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Bickham at (504) 658-9583 or email@example.com.