Teen Court decision tabled
JACKSON – The Northampton County Board of Commissioners have tabled their decision regarding implementing Teen Court until after their mid-year review.
Last week, Walter Smith, project director for Northeastern Economic Empowerment Corporation (NEEC)-Teen Court, approached the board regarding implementing Teen Court in Northampton and Hertford counties.
According to information provided by Smith, Teen Court is a program designed around the concept that a jury of young peers is more influential dealing with behavioral problems than any other method. Teen Court relies upon the nature of positive peer pressure to deter defendants from becoming repeat offenders. NEEC will have an average of 25 to 50 teens and adults that will volunteer their time with the program.
“It’s in lieu of youth going into the regular court system and if they complete it successfully it will mean they will not have a juvenile record,” he said. “The studies show that youth that go through teen court are unlikely to commit future offenses either as a teen or as an adult.”
Smith said NEEC had recently received a grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission to conduct the program. The commission requires matching funds from each county involved and Northampton’s match is $10,272.43 of a total budget of $82,179.49.
Commissioner Joe Barrett questioned what types of violations teen court would handle.
Smith said the program deals with type one, two and three offenses (disorderly conduct, trespassing, property damage, communicating threats, stolen property, simple assault etc.) and will not deal with drug or severe assault cases.
“A lot of it will be up to the discretion of the D.A. (district attorney),” he said.
Vice Chairman Robert Carter said he thought the program was worthy, but the board’s protocol called for Smith to come before the board prior to applying for the grant, which requires matching funds for budgeting process purposes.
Carter said he was also concerned about the referrals listed for the program.
“It seems to me we’re putting the cart before the horse here,” he said.
Commissioner Fannie Greene agreed by saying she thought the program would be beneficial, but the county would have to figure out if it could afford the match.
“I’m kind of surprised it’s asking so much from the county,” she said.
Greene said she would like to give County Manager Wayne Jenkins and Finance Officer Dot Vick time to study the matter to see if the funds could be found.
Jenkins said the funds would have to come from contingency and the earliest the board would know if that money was available would be after the auditor’s mid-year review.
Barrett questioned if the county would be in a similar financial situation with next year’s budget as it was this past budget process.
Jenkins said the indicators were that the county was not “out of the woods” yet, especially with sales tax.
Barrett said while he thought the program was worthwhile, the county needed to begin watching its expenditures and it may not be able to afford the Teen Court program.
Smith questioned if the matter could be tabled until after the mid-year review. The board agreed and voted to table the issue.