District 205 Approves Youth Court

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- A local school district is trying to keep our kids out of the criminal justice system with a new program that's trying to give our youth a second chance.

It's called youth court and Rockford Public Schools wants to pilot the program at Jefferson High School this Spring. About 25 teens would be trained as jurors, with up to ten of them serving on a case at any given time, with a fellow student.

"Youth court is going to be beneficial for the students who have a lapse in judgment, who make a mistake and particularly a first time offense, and it gives them the opportunity to not have to enter into the criminal justice system," said Gina Caronna with the district's college and career readiness program.

Eligible offenses include things like misdemeanor possession of drugs, certain theft, assault and criminal trespass. Felonies are not eligible for youth court. The Winnebago County State's Attorney's Office will decide whether a student is eligible. And leaders hope youth court prevents kids from getting involved in more serious crimes.

"We want to intervene here. We certainly hope it will have an impact down the line of keeping people out of the adult courts," said Winnebago County Deputy State's Attorney Dave Kurlinkus.

Youth court is voluntary and students can only go through the program once. Restorative sentences are still being discussed but the district wants to keep the work within the schools.

All high school students can fill out an application to be jurors for youth court. The Harlem, Dixon and Freeport school districts all have youth court. Both Winnebago County and the City of Rockford still have to vote on District 205's program.

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