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Bob Kellar: Community Court helps put kids back on track

Live from City Hall

Posted: January 7, 2011 9:21 p.m.
Updated: January 8, 2011 4:55 a.m.
 

The Santa Clarita Community Court Diversion Program is an alternative to the juvenile justice system for first-time, nonviolent juvenile offenders.

A partnership among the city of Santa Clarita, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and William S. Hart Union High School District, the program was started to help first-time offenders learn from their mistakes and to ensure that children perform their community service and pay their restitution here in Santa Clarita, where their crime was committed.

The Community Court program, which started in 2006, handles minor juvenile criminal and traffic cases.

All citations are screened for eligibility through the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station. However, because of limited space in the Community Court program, not all first-time offenders are offered the program.

Those accepted into the program are sentenced by a judge to perform community service, make restitution, attend diversion classes and pay financial penalties.

If the juvenile completes the program, their crime does not go on their record. The judges who oversee the court are local attorneys who volunteer their time and work to ensure that an appropriate sentence is given to each teen.

In 2010, there were 305 cases seen in Community Court. Of those cases, 225 were traffic related, with speeding, failure to stop and unsafe lane changes being the top three offenses. Eighty of last year’s Community Court cases were criminal, with the top offenses being curfew violation, possession of tobacco/marijuana and petty theft/shoplifting.

With more than 2,870 hours of community service done by Community Court teens, every single participant was able to complete the program.

In September 2010, the Santa Clarita Teen Court program moved under the city’s Community Court program.

Teen Court is an alternative to the traditional juvenile system whereby suspected juvenile offenders are questioned and sentenced by a jury of their peers from local high schools.

The Teen Court program offers convicted juvenile offenders the incentive of having no incarceration or formal probation, and the conviction will be removed from their record if the program is successfully completed within a six-month period.

Teen Court also formed a partnership with the city’s Transit Division to have Teen Court minors remove graffiti from buses, along with graffiti removal throughout areas of the city.

To date, teens have completed 207 hours of community service.

Since 1995, Teen Court has dealt with misdemeanor crimes committed by juvenile offenders.

Since inception, more than 800 teenagers have gone through the program and completed more than 32,000 hours of community service in the city of Santa Clarita.

Our community benefits from Community Court and Teen Court by empowering young people to change their lives for the better.

These programs also reduce the Los Angeles Juvenile Court case load, enabling court officials to focus on more serious offenders.

In addition to the obvious benefit of interrupting a developing pattern of criminal behavior, the Teen Court program helps to reinforce self-esteem, provide motivation for self-improvement and promote a healthy attitude toward authority.

For more information regarding Community Court and Teen Court, please contact Janine Prado, the city’s community services administrator, at (661) 250-3716.

Bob Kellar is a Santa Clarita City Council member and can be reached at: bkellar@santa-clarita.com. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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