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Bethlehem Youth Court logs busy year

Teens volunteering at Bethlehem Youth Court worked overtime last year and logged the program’s second busiest year on record.

Forty-three teenaged, first-time offenders with minor charges went through the Youth Court system last year, and a total of 979 hours of community service was performed as a result. The Youth Court program has a court comprised of high school students handing out sentences to their peers as an alternative to the criminal justice system, and has been operating since 1995.

“We had a busy year in 2011. The student volunteers really stepped up to the plate and handled it well. We held two training sessions, one in the spring and one in the fall, training a total of 33 new members. We had a record breaking 72 new recruits sign up to become volunteer jurors. That’s an increase of 140 percent from 2010,” said Youth Court Director Katrina Charland in a statement.

The court’s year-end report revealed trespassing as the most common charge for the offenders tried in Youth Court, unseating unlawful possession of marijuana, which had been the most common crime for four years running. Charland said petit larceny is also a common crime, but she didn’t speculate on the reason for the change.

“If anything it probably has to do with the increased vigilance of police department … and community,” she said.

Those tried in Youth Court must admit guilt as a precondition. From there, the offender is put through a full trial in a court staffed by high school volunteers and sentenced to community service by a jury.

Community service was performed at more than 30 locations in and around the Town of Bethlehem during 2011, according to Youth Court officials.

The year-end review revealed a 26 percent increase in cases from 2010, and a slight increase in the average age of offenders. The number of female defenders shrank by half to 23 percent of the total number of offenders.

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