Colonie Youth Court
Public Safety Center
312 Wolf Road
Latham, New York 12110
In the Spring of 1993, members of the Town of Colonie Youth Bureau Advisory Board heard about an interesting concept to combat juvenile crime- youth courts (sometimes referred to as teen courts or peer courts). Although youth courts have been around for a number of years (research has shown that Ithaca, New York had such a court in the 1960s), they began a resurgence in the early 1990s after Odessa, Texas publicized the success of its then recently established teen court. In 1993, the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of New York assisted in the institution of a youth court in Onondaga County (Syracuse) and it was to this youth court that the Town of Colonie Youth Bureau Advisory Board members traveled in May, 1993, to observe Onondaga's first cases, and to see whether youth court could be brought to Colonie. Also in attendance were representatives of the Colonie Police Department and the Albany Office of the United States Attorney's Office.
After observing the Onondaga Youth Court, enthusiasm for a Colonie Youth Court, which already was high, only increased. An advisory board was established, drawing on help from the entire capital region. Police and probation officers, prosecutors, defenders, educators and others joined together to examine the concept. The feeling was strong, and it was supported by the research, that youth courts could be successful in decreasing the incidence of criminal and anti-social behavior among young people. Over the course of the next year, the youth court concept was investigated thoroughly, a regional not-for-profit-corporation, Youth Courts of the Capital District, Inc. (YCCD) was formed (December, 1993), decisions were made on structure, a training manual was prepared, and a training program was instituted.
Among the many structural decisions that had to be made, YCCD chose to develop a youth judge model, in which every role in youth court is held by a student. While some youth court models have adult judges, YCCD chose to place complete trust in the student members. Also, YCCD chose to have youth court act only as a sentencing court. Since youth court targets young people who are at risk for ever increasing criminal behavior, and since acceptance of responsibility is a necessary first step toward rehabilitation, it was felt that a person who was not guilty, or who would not admit their guilt, was not a good candidate for youth court.
Colonie Youth Court commenced its first training class in September of 1994, and heard its first cases in January of 1995. YCCD later opened courts in Bethlehem and East Greenbush. Upon the dissolution of YCCD in 2000, Colonie Youth Court, Inc. was formed until 2004. The Town of Colonie acquired our Youth Court program on April 26, 2004. It now operates under the Colonie Police Department.”
Training in Colonie Youth Court continues every September, with between 40 and 50 student members enrolling every year. Colonie Youth Court hears, on average, slightly less than 100 cases per year.
In 1997 Colonie Youth Court was chosen by the New York State Division for Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to serve as a state-wide model for youth courts. Colonie Youth Court was one of three courts featured in a 1999 nationwide teleconference on youth courts sponsored by the United States Department of Justice and hosted by the University of Kentucky at Lexington. Colonie Youth Court is a featured court in two major publications: Peer Justice and Youth Empowerment: An Implementation Guide for Teen Court Programs, and the National Youth Court Guidelines.
Colonie Youth Court board members serve on a number of national committees aimed at improving and enhancing youth court programming throughout the U. S. Youth Court was even a topic in presentations to representatives of law enforcement of the former Soviet Union, and is an agenda item at discussions at the United Nations.