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Metro Teen Court seeks to expand program in Sandoval County

—Signpost staff

Metro Teen Court Executive Director Joseph Dorn is currently seeking to expand the program to Sandoval County. The mission of the program is to help juvenile offenders restore their relationship with the community through accountability and personal develop- ment. Since its first hearing in 2009, Bernalillo County youth offenders charged with shoplifting, traffic infractions, school offenses, and other misdemeanor crimes have successfully completed an alternative sentencing program.

This program gives first-time offenders the chance to be sentenced by their peers who have been through teen court, rather than enter the traditional juvenile justice system and thus, ultimately, keep their records clean. Metro Teen Court is based on the philosophy that a youthful law violator does not continue to be an offender when a peer jury decides punishment. It gives youths a better understanding of the legal system and the consequences of breaking the law. The court does not determine guilt or innocence, but teaches juvenile offenders that they must take responsibility for their actions.

Dorn says that his program, staffed by volunteers, receives referrals from local judges as an alternative to sending youthful offenders to the juvenile court system and juvenile probation. He hopes to persuade Sandoval County judges Jaem Cook, Montano Baca, and Richard Zanotti to give the program a try, starting with traffic offenses. After the referral process, community service, and infrastructure is in place, the program can expand to criminal cases. Dorn hopes Metro Teen Court will be held at the Rio Rancho Municipal Court and also serve Bernalillo, Corrales, and other parts of Sandoval County. Sandoval County referrals would be also entitled to counseling services.

Judge Bill Parnall of the Bernalillo County Children’s Court said, “Yesterday I attended a portion of this week’s teen court and greatly appreciated the proceeding. I understand how useful this process can be for youth who are both charged with delinquent acts and those who have to deal with the issue as a jury. The process appears to be a great tool for developing maturity for all the youth involved. I would like to extend a huge thank you for all of you who put on this program including all the volunteer judges who bring a high degree of professionalism to the process.”

Offenders referred to the Teen Court make amends by doing community service, serving on the jury of piers, and through an education process. If they complete the program they can avoid further action of juvenile courts and probation and take a leadership role in the Teen Court.

For more information, contact Metro Teen Court at 505-659-0014 or Metroteencourt@gmail.com.

 
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