Council adopted that report Thursday by a 17-0 vote. After the vote, Jones described a childhood friend who spent 26 years in prison. That friend, he said, now speaks to schoolchildren, describing how his criminal path began with acting out in school.
"Nobody intervened, could not see the warning signs, could not help him through some of his challenges to keep him from that path of crime," Jones said.
Jones, who studied youth court programs in Chester and sponsored several hearings on youth courts as chairman of Council's Committee on Public Safety, believes the program could fill that void for many struggling children.
Jones said he would sit down with members of the School Reform Commission to discuss how to expand the courts and integrate them into the district's educational and disciplinary policies. (Nonprofits partnered with principals and teachers run several youth courts in city schools.)
Already, Jones said, he has lined up support from city judges, attorneys, and others who would be willing to donate their time to train students interested in becoming judges or jurors. Jones said most of the cost of the program would stem from any renovations that might be needed to renovate a classroom into a courtroom.
Jones said that youth courts sometimes provide a better outcome for students facing harsh punishments. He cited the story of a high school student in Chester, the captain of his basketball team, who lost his temper in a noisy classroom and shouted at his fellow students to "shut up." The teacher then believed the student was causing trouble, which led to a verbal argument between them that resulted in the student's expulsion.
In youth court, Jones said, the student was able to present his side of what happened, which was that he was frustrated with others in the class who were preventing him from paying attention.
The student said he should have approached the teacher about his problem, instead of yelling at the other students. Rather than expulsion, he ended up reading a letter to his class and performing community service as a punishment.
"The system encourages them to take responsibility for their actions," Jones said.
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