Youth Courts: Peer Justice Platform for Youth Development
Stoneleigh Fellow: Gregory Volz, 2009-2013
Gregg Volz's project targets youth in the City of Chester, Pennsylvania, who lack developmental opportunities, are in danger of dropping out of school and are subsequently disconnected from school and from work. Research shows clear links between educational failure, criminal justice involvement and workforce failure. To address this problem, Mr. Volz led the development of five youth courts in Chester public schools. Gregg has observed that youth courts reduce delinquent behavior, enhance educational performance, and can serve as an “off-ramp” from the criminal justice system. School-based youth courts, such as the one he first developed at Chester High School during the 2007-08 school year, bridge gaps between the education and juvenile justice systems and have the potential to do more. Community based youth courts lower costs to the juvenile justice system. Both types of courts foster new community leadership.
Youth courts are the most replicated diversionary justice model in recent years. In 1994, there were only 78 youth courts in the United States; now there are almost 1300. In Pennsylvania, however, the use of youth courts has been very limited.
During his fellowship term, 2009-2011, Gregg seeks to:
- Expand the Chester High School youth court and create mechanisms for it to be institutionalized;
- Implement a school youth court for middle and elementary school students in the Chester Upland School District;
- Develop a statewide youth court association in Pennsylvania;
- Collect data on recidivism rates, psychosocial and academic performance, and job market participation; and
- Conduct an economic analysis of the costs and benefits of youth courts.
Gregg Volz's long-term vision for these efforts is to:
- Block the school-to-prison pipeline;
- Provide a platform for advocates in the juvenile justice, education, and workforce fields to share information and communicate more effectively;
- Build a platform for a broader youth development program in Chester; and
- Build a replicable model for use by other school districts and communities in Pennsylvania.
Progress to Date
Since the start of the Fellowship, Gregg has worked with a team of volunteers to expand and operate five youth courts in four Chester Upland School District schools - Chester High School, Allied Health, Science and Discovery, and the Village. In the 2010-2011 academic year alone, over 400 cases were referred to the Chester High School alone.
In his efforts to promote a state-wide youth court movement, Gregg has successfully increased interest in youth courts among a range of stakeholders in both the public and private sectors. Gregg has played the primary role in drafting a youth court bill at the request of legislative aides for three elected officials. In May 2011, the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) unanimously passed a youth court resolution supporting the development of a youth court public-private partnership. In June, the PBA convened a planning meeting of 20 attorneys, judges, and educators as the first step in this process. In October, a larger group of stakeholders will convene under the leadership of Judge Majorie Rendell, the PA Bar Association, and the Stoneleigh Foundation to further the development of state-wide youth court advisory board. Chester youth courts have been covered by various media outlets, including WPVI, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Delaware County Times and Daily Gazette.