Cobb County uses alternative way to reach first time juvenile offenders

Cobb County is using teenagers to get through to juvenile offenders. After minor offenses, offenders can appear in court before their peers, who then decide their fate.  

It's called Peer Court. It takes place in a real courtroom before a real judge. But the attorneys, court clerk, and the jury are all teenagers.

A teen who is a first offender, and who has admitted guilt to a minor offense, is eligible for Peer Court. Court administrators said the majority of those who end up in Peer Court, stay out of trouble.  

"The volunteers have in-depth knowledge of what some of those children are facing, the pressures on a day to day basis, and have a better way to respond to it," says Juvenile Court Administrator Adolphus Graves.

Just like every other courtroom, attorneys argue the case and witnesses are called to testify and are cross-examined. The Peer Court volunteers are all high school students. They all go through law school training before stepping into the courtroom.

"I'm interested in the criminal justice system but a lot of time we lean on punishment and we don't focus on things like therapy or taking the context of full situations," said Ella Day, a volunteer.

Juvenile Court Judge Kareem West said not only are the volunteers learning a lot about the legal system, the defendants learn to make better decisions.

"I think it says hey this is a person like me and this could have been handled differently so I think I'm going to take it to heart," said Judge West.

The defendants must also abide by the sentence the jury of their peers, hands down.  It varies from case to case, often including community service hours and letters of apology.

"It's always going to be beneficial for them and their future and in the long run," said Chinirah Brown, a volunteer.

There are 60 court volunteers. They come from high schools across Cobb County.