Legislature(1995 - 1996)
04/03/1995 01:05 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 87 - AUTHORIZING YOUTH COURTS Number 350 ELIZABETH ROBERTS, Legislative Aide to Representative Bettye Davis, bill sponsor, introduced HB 87. She first mentioned the Close Up students who came in by the dozens to visit Representative Bettye Davis and to talk about this particular bill. The Close Up students were told to select a bill that they wanted to be passed more than any other bill this session. HB 87 was it because the concept of literally being tried by their peers sounded like real democracy to them. They felt that it took the grown-ups out of the judging position and put the kids where the grown-ups had been before. MS. ROBERTS informed the committee that youth courts have been in effect in Anchorage since 1989. It is an extremely successful program. Of the youth court participants, 188 were given an award by the American Bar Association and $5,000 was given to the program for having the best youth court partnership system in the United States. It is an eight to ten week course in which all of the high schools participate. There are 248 students in the youth court system at the moment who act as judges, jurors, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. It not only helps the defendant by allowing him/her to be tried by his peers, and then not have anything on his record, but it enables the students who are participating in youth courts to get a real idea of what democracy in government and the court system is all about. This legislation carries a zero fiscal note. It is ideally suited for rural Alaska, because either one community or several communities can participate. You can have as many as 500 kids or as few as 30 involved. MS. ROBERTS stated that the first youth court started in 1983 in Augusta, Texas and is still running. There are four others, but Anchorage has the most sophisticated one. It is the only one where the students are the judge, the jury, and the prosecutors. They have their own constitution and bylaws, and they meet quarterly with various adult judges and pro-bono attorneys to talk about fiscal responsibility and to plan their caseload. They have a youth bar association that meets weekly to discuss issues. They have to pass a test to be admitted into this association. This does not cost any money, generates a great deal of community enthusiasm, has a recidivism rate of 50 percent less than kids who go through the regular juvenile system, gives the defendant a second chance, and it works well. It has been working in Anchorage for six years. Juneau is already discussing the possibility of having one. It is a nice bill which helps a lot of people and does not cause any problems. REPRESENTATIVE TOOHEY mentioned to the committee members who were not on the HESS Committee, that they saw a very interesting film supporting this bill. She felt it had a lot of merit and urged passage of HB 87. ELMER LINDSTROM, Special Assistant, Office of the Commissioner, Department of Health and Social Services, stated that the department supports HB 87. They have had success working with the program in Anchorage. The department has enjoyed success with the youth model court in Anchorage as an alternative court process for very young first time offenders who are arrested for less serious offenses against property. The model succeeded, for the most part, as a function of the resources available in the Anchorage community. The Department believes that the Anchorage program could be replicated in other communities to the extent that there is local community involvement that allows it to go forward. However, our relationship with the program is simply that of a referral agency. We do refer the juveniles to the program. Number 430 CHAIRMAN PORTER asked what the criteria for referral is in Anchorage. MR. LINDSTROM said he did not know in great detail, but he did know it has to be a first offense and it has to be a very minor offense. Usually they are offenses against property. The DFYS would likely send a letter of reprimand, sometimes far down the road in time. This is an option that gets a youth's attention immediately and some immediate reinforcement that what they did, they ought not to have done. CHAIRMAN PORTER asked if both the juvenile and the parents have to agree to use the youth court system. MR. LINDSTROM answered that yes, there has to be concurrence all the way around to participate in the program. REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE asked for examples and information on specific cases that have been through the youth court. MS. ROBERTS stated that the director of the youth court was not able to release any details or any of the records of the defendants who had been through youth court at this time. They have been having a small problem in Anchorage, because under the current statutes, they do not have the ability to subpoena. If someone agrees to testify and then changes his mind, there is nothing a youth court can do. Under our bill, we have inserted the provision for being able to subpoena a witness. CHAIRMAN PORTER asked why this was being put into Title 18, rather than Title 47. MS. ROBERTS said she did not know. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY noted that the bill drafter, Mr. Chenoweth, had drafted it that way. CHAIRMAN PORTER said the bill goes to the Finance Committee next, so he thought perhaps the sponsor could ask the drafter what the rationale for that is. He felt it would be more appropriate under Title 47 rather than under Title 18. REPRESENTATIVE TOOHEY made a motion to move HB 87 out of committee with individual recommendations and zero fiscal notes. Hearing no objection, it was so ordered.