- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 7, 2014

FREEPORT, Ill. (AP) - The Stephenson County Peer Jury Program resumes Oct. 8 to help first-time juvenile offenders understand the consequences of their crimes and avoid the pitfalls of the criminal justice system.

The program, established by the State’s Attorney’s office in 2007, allows Freeport-area youth who are 13 to 17 years old to serve as a peer jury in criminal cases involving first-time juvenile offenders. Up to 20 volunteers serve on the peer jury, which meets once a month to consider circumstances of defendants’ crimes and deliver punishments that best suit the offender in question.

The State’s Attorney’s office recruited student volunteers from Freeport High School and Aquin High School last week to form a new peer jury for the year ahead, and there are still several open volunteer positions.



“Basically, if it’s a juvenile’s first time committing a crime such as a retail theft, battery or possession or drug paraphernalia, then their case is referred to the peer jury program,” said program coordinator Jacqueline Cooley. “The point of the program is to get juveniles through the program and try to rehabilitate them, so to speak, so that they won’t actually have to go into the juvenile court system.”

Offenders who participate in the program appear in court with a parent or guardian, plead guilty to their charge and have their case heard by the peer jury. The offender then has 30 days to complete his or her sentence, which typically involves some form of community service. Other sentences include tutoring, counseling peers, having to take a trip to the jail or writing an essay.

The charge is dismissed if the offender completes the sentence successfully. If not, the offender’s case is referred to a judge in juvenile court.

Haley Pentecost got involved in the peer jury program because she wants to be a lawyer.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity to help kids get a second chance when they mess up,” she said. “It gives them a chance to better themselves by helping the community because we usually give them community service.”

The peer jury hears about cases involving about 35 offenders every year. Since the program’s inception, 83 percent of offenders have completed the program and not offended again.

Offenders incur no attorney fees, fines or other costs as long as they complete their peer jury sentence and aren’t referred back to juvenile court.

“It benefits the community because it helps rehabilitate some of the juveniles after their first time committing a crime,” Cooley said. “If we can teach them what they need to do to correct some of their behavior before it spirals out of control, that’s really a great thing.”

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Source: The (Freeport) Journal-Standard, https://bit.ly/ZGRBWm

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Information from: The Journal-Standard, https://www.journalstandard.com/jshome.taf

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