When Kane County Sheriff’s Deputy Krysta Kaus, who is assigned to Burlington Central High School as the school liaison, began researching how to implement a peer jury program at Burlington Central, she quickly found that there were only a few, very different, district-specific peer jury programs in Kane County.
So Kaus started thinking a little bigger. Wouldn’t a peer jury be more effective if it were offered to more schools? Wouldn’t it be smart to have a program that’s consistent and applies best practices for students throughout Kane County?
Now, thanks to the efforts of Kaus, the Kane County Sheriff’s Office and the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office, youth offenders from throughout the county will have an opportunity to be “tried” and “sentenced” by a jury of their peers.
The initial kick off of the Kane County peer jury program took place in late October at the Kane County Courthouse on Route 38 and included a mock peer jury. The first official peer jury event is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 26.
The peer jury seeks to provide a youth offender the opportunity to account for his/her behavior to a group of peers and to repair the harm caused to the victim and the community.
Peer jurors will attempt to understand why the offender committed the offense and then assign consequences to help the offender be accountable for his or her actions. When assigning consequences, jurors consider the three goals of “Balanced and Restorative Justice”: social competency, accountability and community safety.
The peer jury program was initially developed by Alternatives, Inc., a non-profit youth and family service agency in Chicago, IL. The charter program was first implemented at Nicholas Senn High School in 1995.
The students sought to identify a model that provided alternatives to the punitive measures set out in the school discipline code. Students who were suspended or expelled often had poor attendance, were generally unable to complete school assignments, and often further isolated from the school community and culture.
Since its inception, the Peer Jury program has received award recognition from the Chicago Council of Urban Affairs (2001 Neighborhood Award), Youth Court Association (2002 Youth Court Award) and the BP Leader Award ( 2002) and was nominated for the 2003 James Brown IV Award of Excellence for Outstanding Community Service.
Perhaps more importantly, schools that have implemented the peer jury program have reported a decrease in suspensions and in-school fights and an increase in attendance.
How Does the Kane County Peer Jury Work?
The Kane County Sheriff’s Peer Jury is a program in which juvenile offenders can atone for their behavior to a group of their peers while avoiding the court system. The minor appears before a panel of their peers, “the jury,” and is read the charge against him or her by the officer.
The minor then is given the opportunity to tell his or her side of the story and then responds to questions asked by the jurors and the adult supervising. The jury then deliberates and creates an assignment for the minor.
The assignments are made on a case-by-case basis depending on the minor, the crime and other circumstances. The assignments could include writing letters of apology, educational papers or reflective papers, interviewing people within the community, filling out chore logs, performing a prescribed number of hours of community service or any combination of those tasks.
The goal of peer jury is threefold:
1. To provide opportunities for wrongdoers to be accountable to those they have harmed, and to enable them to repair the harm they caused to the extent possible.
2. To increase the pro-social skills of those who have harmed others, address underlying factors that lead youth to engage in delinquent behavior and build on strengths in each young person.
3. To keep communities safe through building relationships while empowering the community to take responsibility for the well-being of its members.
Who Are the Offenders?
Peer jury is designed for only nonviolent, nonserious crimes. Minors who would go to peer jury instead of the court system must admit what they have done and agree to complete what the peer jury assigns to them. If the minor does not complete the assignment, his or her case will be referred to Juvenile Court Services.
Who Are the Jurors?
Students between the ages of 14 and 17 participate in the program. The students must submit an application and interview to be on the jury. Students cannot have any prior criminal activity.
Where and When Are Meetings?
Peer jury will be held on the last Wednesday of each month in Room 001 at the Kane County Judicial Center, located at 37W37W777 IL Route 38, #150, St Charles.
Facilitators can be vice-principals (but not disciplinarians), guidance counselors, teachers, special staff or community volunteers.
Depending on the needs of the school and the program’s resources, facilitators can work anywhere from full-time (the exception) to just one class period each day. It is also possible to have more than one individual “co-facilitate” a program.
Responsibilities of the facilitator include:
- Handling in-school publicity and education of staff and students.
- Overseeing the training of peer mediators.
- Explaining mediation to students in conflict and encouraging them to try it.
- Scheduling mediation sessions.
- Supervising mediation sessions.
- Following up on all cases and maintaining records.
- Keeping the school community informed about the program’s progress.
The facilitators of the program are adults from within Kane County.
Information is available by contacting School Resource Officer Deputy Krysta Kaus at 630-444-3411 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOURCE: Kane County Sheriff’s Office
- Kane County Chronicle: Juvenile offenders to be judged by their peers
- Chicago Tribune: Juvenile offenders to be judged by peers in Kane County
- Daily Herald: Kane County launches, plans to expand peer jury program