Peer review: Youth Court allows teens to decide punishment

The offenders range in age between 15 and 18 " at age 16, according to Colydas, the youth is tried as an adult within the criminal justice system.

The hearing, Colydas said, is modeled after a traditional court hearing, although in Youth Court they do not call it a trial, instead, they call it a "sentencing hearing." After the case has been heard from both sides, the jurors adjourn and the defense recommends a certain number of community service hours the offender should receive. The jury discusses the recommendation and comes back either accepting the recommendation or submitting a new recommendation for hours that they feel are more appropriate, Colydas said. The judge will then read aloud the sentencing.

What the judge cannot do, however, is sentence the offender to jail time. Every youth offender that enters the Youth Court also must plead guilty, Colydas said.

The community service consists of two parts: one, where the youth completes physical service, including landscaping projects or work at a local food shelter; and second, where the young person attends weekly seminars by guest speakers from the community geared toward that age group, including classes on teens and money management, drinking and driving, and more.

In the end, said Colydas, each youth who passes through the Youth Court system serves the same final two hours.

"Each defendant has to finish out their last two hours as a juror in the court," she said.

Colydas said the program is designed this way so that youth offenders are given a chance to come "full circle" by the conclusion of their sentencing. According to Colydas, there is a 99 percent completion rate among youth offenders.

For some, the program, which celebrated its 1000th case last August, is a unique learning experience outside of school for Colonie's youth. For others, it is a doorway into their future.

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