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Youth Court is a voluntary alternative to the criminal justice system for young people, living within the Town of Amherst who have committed a crime or an offense. The goal of Youth Court is to intervene in early anti-social, delinquent, and criminal behavior to reduce the incidence and prevent the escalation of such behavior. Youth Court strives to promote feelings of high self esteem, a desire for self improvement and to foster a healthy attitude toward rules and authority.
Youth Court proceedings entail peer members who act as judge, prosecutor, defender and clerk/bailiff. The Town of Amherst Youth Court consists of high school students from the five public high schools within the Town of Amherst: Amherst, Sweet Home, Williamsville East, North and South. An adult serves as the Court Coordinator.
Cases are generally referred by judges, police and probation departments to the Youth Bureau Detectives who accept cases meeting established criteria. Typical cases that may be heard in Youth Court include shoplifting, criminal mischief, larceny, and vandalism.
Juvenile offenders must admit guilt to be accepted for Youth Court. Offenders are assigned two Youth Court members who act as the defense. Offenders may discuss the circumstances of the crime with his or her defense council in private. The Youth Court Judge may impose a sentence that includes community service or attendance to classes and counseling sessions. The judge cannot sentence any youth to a detention facility or jail.
The proceedings are held in the Town of Amherst Court building once a month on Saturdays. The proceedings are private and not open to the public.
Young people who serve on the Youth Court have successfully completed a multi-week law related training program. Instruction includes an overview of the criminal justice system from arrest through appeal. The organization, jurisdiction, operation of the Youth Court, consequences of crime, and sentencing issues, including aggravating and mitigating circumstances are also reviewed. The training program concludes with mock trials to prepare members for participation in Youth Court proceedings.
A steering committee oversees the daily operations of the youth court. The committee works with offenders, families, jurors, law enforcement agencies, and others in the community to ensure that Youth Court is effective in its mission. An executive board assists in this mission in formulating operational procedures and polices.
On a designated Saturday during the month of May, the Amherst Youth Court holds a "Law Day" where Youth Court members interact with their parents and the public. Members of the community and press are invited to attend. A mock trial is held to show how a typical case is adjudicated.