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Peer court loss hurts our youth

OUR VIEW
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Loss of peer court detrimental to Placer youth Everyone has the right to be tried in court by a jury of their peers. But that?s being taken away from Placer County youth. After 18 years, the Placer County Peer Court has been eliminated. The program?s $100,000 chunk of funding from the Placer County Superior Court has been cut, causing other funding sources to back out of the successful system. Officials cited the Placer County Superior Court?s budget deficit as a reason for the cut. As earlier reported in the Journal, an audit alleged that former Placer County Superior Court CEO John Mendes gave himself more than $400,000 in apparently unapproved raises. Other programs such as the Placer County Peer Court program could be suffering amid budgetary missteps such as this. Program officials are grappling for private and public funding sources to continue the peer court, and while many make the case for keeping the program (including the judge who founded it in 1991, J. Richard Couzens), it appears the court will be adjourned, at least for now. The court gave youth involved in minor offenses a chance to have their case heard in a court of their peers ? fellow teens. Young people serve as lawyers, clerks and jury in this program. Having youth involved in solving their own problems promotes a positive attitude toward the legal system. It?s also part ?scared straight,? making them think twice before committing another offense. The loss of such a program will no doubt be felt in our community. Without a way to deter them from further crimes, it could end up costing taxpayers more money. Cutting the peer court could save courts $100,000 a year, but what will it cost in terms of a rise in criminal activity from youth that need intervention? The Placer County Peer Court dealt with around 300 cases involving youth each year, everything from truancy to altercations, with an annual budget of $200,000. Less than 3 percent of participating kids committed another offense. Every participant experiences the court from two points of view, as offenders are required to return and serve as jurors, weighing in on another?s crime. Young people serve as lawyers and jurors on the court. The convicted are sentenced to community service and serve some 10,000 hours of it each year. It addresses youth delinquency aside from the formal court system. ?Unfortunately there are a lot of kids and families that will not have the benefit of making a mistake and having it handled at a lower level,? said Penryn rsident Karen Green, Placer County Peer Court coordinator. According to Green, it costs $500 to move a case through the Placer County Peer Court program, compared with $3,000 to $5,000 through the juvenile court system. Pending further investigation into the Mendes case, Superior Court administrators should commit to reinstating peer court at the earliest possible moment. Analysis has shown the program to be effective and efficient. Until that happens, it?s just another example of how fiscal mistakes can hurt future generations, and that isn?t just.