A Lindenwood University-Belleville criminal justice faculty member, retired Circuit Judge Annette Eckert, has co-authored a manual for establishing teen courts.
Eckert, who pioneered a teen court program in St. Clair County, now wants to help spread what she’s learned to help juveniles in other communities. So, she penned the manual with former Lindenwood University Education Department adjunct instructor Zabelle Norsigian Vartanian to share what they’ve learned in three years of establishing a teen court program in St. Clair County. The book, Implementing Teen Courts: A Restorative Justice Peer Jury Guide and Manual, has been published on the Southern Illinois University School of Law website.
Eckert, a faculty member and recruiter in the Criminal Justice Department and Lindenwood Belleville, said she was inspired to start a local teen court a few years ago after hearing about the concept from one of her students at the university.
The book consolidates the research, forms, and processes Eckert and Norsigian Vartanian used to begin the St. Clair County Teen Court three years ago.
“What we have tried to do is put everything we have learned–down to all the documents and training information–in one place,” said Eckert. “If a community wants to start their own teen court program, everything they need to know can now be found in one place. They can adjust it to fit their community."
Eckert said she was inspired to share what she’s learned after seeing the tremendous positive impact the teen court has had on the lives of young people in St. Clair County.
Teens whose cases are referred to the teen court must be nonviolent first-time offenders. To complete the program, they must accept responsibility for their actions and complete the restorative justice remedy or sentence determined by their peer jury. Trained teen peer jurors from 13 area high schools decide on the restorative justice sentence or remedies the referred teen has to complete to take responsibility, repair any harm to the victims, and to become a positive person in the community.
The remedies often include letters of apology, essays, community service, and counseling. Upon performance of each remedial justice task, the referred teens come to a graduation ceremony, receive congratulations, and tells the peer jurors what they did and what was helpful. Graduations are held each month before court.
“It’s a remarkably effective program,” said Eckert. “When we started, we were aiming for a recidivism rate of less than 10 percent. But, actually, less than 6 percent of the teens we see get in trouble again. We’re very pleased at how successful the program has been at getting teens back on the right path.”
The results have drawn praise locally from St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelley for its approach to resolving juvenile issues and nationally by Mission Readiness, an organization of retired generals and admirals who advocate for programs that enable youthful offenders to avoid juvenile criminal records, which disqualifies them from military service.