2003 Safety, Security and International Affairs

William Pericak and the Team

Nurtured the growth of Youth Courts, one of the most innovative, fastest-growing crime prevention programs in the nation.

Juvenile crime prevention and intervention programs are not usually standard business for a United States Attorney’s Office. But for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of New York, it’s a priority. A team of four Assistant U.S. Attorneys and one law enforcement coordinator have vastly improved the juvenile justice system across the nation by establishing a program called Youth Courts.

The team began the Youth Court program to reduce the rate of juvenile recidivism and increase volunteerism among young people. The program is a voluntary, community-based alternative to the juvenile justice system that utilizes peer pressure as a positive force. High school-aged young people serve as volunteer judges, attorneys and jurors for actual juvenile cases of first-time offenders. The team strives to deter these young offenders early to keep them from being prosecuted more severely as adults. In essence, Youth Courts stop teen offenders at “one mistake.”

Understanding that juvenile crime prevention and intervention should be an integral part of the criminal justice system, the team has acted as a driving force in the National Youth Court Movement to spread the program’s benefits to other jurisdictions. With 942 Youth Courts in 46 states, the team is responsible for giving thousands of young Americans the opportunity to experience public service through their involvement in Youth Court.

Members of the team have traveled to over 25 states to help develop program materials for new Youth Courts. Their hard work is paying off. In 2002, over 125,000 juvenile cases were referred to Youth Court and over 100,000 young people volunteered to serve in the process.

The team’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by national leaders. September 2002 was designated as National Youth Court Month. President Bush honored the program with a letter of congratulations that summed up its far-reaching impact: “By pledging to help young people understand the responsibilities of citizenship, Youth Court volunteers help our nation fight delinquent behavior and encourage positive youth development.