Lindenwood University-Belleville’s adjunct instructor of criminology and criminal justice and executive director of St. Clair County Teen Court, Judge (Ret.) Annette Eckert, has co-authored Implementing Teen Courts: A Restorative Justice Peer Jury Guide and Manual, 2nd Edition, 2018 alongside Zabelle Norsigian Vartanian, administrator for St. Clair County Teen Court.
Teen Court represents an alternative approach to juvenile justice that holds first-time nonviolent youth offenders accountable through a sentence imposed by their peers. According to Eckert, the manual serves as a guide for other jurisdictions seeking to begin a teen court, which has recently included the nearby jurisdictions of Monroe, Randolph, and Adams counties in Illinois. The St. Clair County Teen Court emphasizes accountability and responsibility rather than traditional punitive measures, thereby focusing on balance and restorative justice, which is the policy statement of the Illinois Juvenile Court Act. St. Clair County’s Teen Court is set to begin its fifth year of operation in November, and the program has a recidivism rate of less than five percent, said Eckert.
For the St. Clair County Teen Court, peer jurors, who are hand-selected by school administrators and counselors, come from 14 high schools within the county. The peer jurors undergo a one-day training session conducted by Eckert, Vartanian, and adult volunteers. A training session will be held on the Lindenwood Belleville campus Saturday, Oct. 20. The court sessions are held monthly at the St. Clair County Jail, hosted by Sheriff Rick Watson.
“The program has been praised by State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly for its approach to resolving juvenile issues,” said Eckert. “It has also been praised nationally by Mission Readiness, a national organization of retired generals and admirals who advocate for programs that enable youthful offenders to avoid a juvenile record, which disqualifies them from military service.”
The manual is published on the Southern Illinois University School of Law website and can be found at http://www.law.siu.edu/infofour/community.html.