History of South Coast Youth Courts
History of New Bedford Youth Court

In October 2002, New Bedford Youth Court became the first recognized Youth Court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Currently there are over 1,050 Youth Courts operating nationally.  Youth Courts are based on the principles of restorative justice and act as an alternative to traditional juvenile justice systems.  Typical respondents are first time offenders who have committed misdemeanor crimes and the youth court serves as a sentencing hearing for juvenile respondents.  At this hearing respondents acknowledge the harm they have caused and agree to accept a set of sanctions determined by a peer jury.  The ultimate goal of the sanctions provided by the peer jury is to help the respondent build necessary skills that will help them reconnect with their community in a more positive way.

The NBYC is overseen by Positive Action Against Chemical Addiction, Inc. (PAACA), a grass roots community based non-profit organization, dedicated to providing quality youth programming and prevention services.  Additionally, NBYC is governed by a volunteer Advisory Board comprised of 15 community organizations and agencies such as schools, police, court personnel and other youth program providers.  The advisory board assisted in the formation of the mission, governing by-laws and meets regularly to address NBYC's progress and growth.  NBYC maintains a diverse funding portfolio that has allowed it to grow and continue to provide quality programming and service.  These funders include support from federal, state and local programs such as the Executive Office of Public Safety Byrne's Grant Program, The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Department of Education, City of New Bedford Invest in Kids and more.

NBYC has successfully been hearing cases since October 2002.  To date, the NBYC has processed over 1339 cases in its thirteen years of operation and averages 103 cases per year.  Youth offenders range from 8 to 16 years old.  Some offenses include: school related acts, disorderly conduct, shoplifting, larceny and simple assault.  Sanctions (or punishments) include community service, after school programming, tutoring, mentoring, self help support groups, clinical assessments, apologies, curfews and more.

NBYC has realized a significantly high compliance rate.  This success can best be attributed to the following factors.  Case managers assigned to each respondent who monitor their compliance throughout the 120 day sanction period by working with the schools, providing school based visits, weekly communication with families and frequent interaction with the respondent.   In addition, Youth Court has developed a wide range of constructive sanctioning that helps young people develop basic life skills necessary tools and coping mechanisms that have shown to redirect their prior behaviors in a more positive way.

​​​Every respondent is sanctioned to serve community service and engage in valuable service learning opportunities. The number of hours range from 8 to 120. To date our Youth Court respondents have served 57,508 hours of community service in New Bedford and the surrounding towns. Community service is completed on Saturdays and managed by a staff of two supervisors for a ratio of 2:12. This allows for the respondents to build mentoring relationships with the staff as well as take on leadership roles within their working group. We have been able to develop a number of relationships in the community to work on projects such as: Project Clean Sweep, Gifts to Give, South Coast Hospitals Warehouse, Cradles to Crayons, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, area churches, public libraries, Adopt a Shoreline, MLK Day and National Night Out. The respondents also take part in Service Learning Week Projects that focus on service as building life skills such as: painting, carpentry, substance abuse prevention, cooking, etiquette and job readiness.

New Bedford Youth Court is endorsed by the New Bedford Public Schools, the New Bedford Police Department and the Bristol County Juvenile Court. Currently 100% of the New Bedford Public Schools are referring youthful offenders to youth court. In October 2005, with assistance from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety Byrne Grant Initiative, NBYC was able to expand to service the towns of Acushnet, Dartmouth and Fairhaven as well as an asserted effort to address alcohol related cases.​​​​

​​Youth Courts are organized and operated by youth with adults acting only as support roles on hearing nights. Youth volunteers are trained in all aspects of court etiquette and play roles of prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, clerk, bailiff and jury. All training materials for Youth Court volunteers have been developed and funded by the American Bar Association. The Office of the District Attorney, The Office of the Attorney General, the New Bedford Police Department and volunteer community lawyers have assisted in training 304 youth volunteers who have dedicated a combined 17,740 hours over the last 9 years. The average youth court volunteer dedicates an average of 50-100 hours each year to this valuable program.​

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