These panels were specifically designed for first-time juvenile offenders who have committed minor offenses. These juvenile cases are diverted from having to appear before a Juvenile Division Judge. Each panel is comprised of either adult or teen participants. All cases are approved for referral to the program by the State Attorney’s Office under strict guidelines that include: the victim’s consent to handling the case non-judicially, no objection from law enforcement, the defendant’s admission of guilt, and the parent or legal guardian’s approval and cooperation in handling the child’s case through diversion. The most common types of offenses referred may include retail theft, trespass, possession of alcohol by a minor, criminal mischief, and battery.
The Delinquency Diversion/Peer Panel processes the case in a series of two hearings which are approximately 45 days apart. The first hearing usually averages 40 minutes and allows the child to discuss details of their arrest, including any relationships involving co-defendants. The panel also obtains information concerning the child’s school performance, the parents’ reactions and the punishment they have imposed and the child’s home life including duties, responsibilities, and interests. The panel then determines a list of punitive sanctions that make the child accountable for his or her actions. The sanctions are reviewed by all and the contract is presented to the child and parents for signing. If the child rejects the contract, the case is returned to the State Attorney’s Office for prosecution. If the contract is signed, it includes a date approximately 45 days in the future for the review hearing. The child is instructed to return to the review hearing with his/her parents and verification of compliance with all assigned tasks. Common sanctions imposed may include any of the following:
- Apology letters to victims, parents, grandparents, and/or law enforcement officers
- Community service work
- Workbooks, essays, goal statements concerning career plans, educational plans, college acceptance criteria, etc.
- Mandatory school attendance and/or grade improvement
- Seeking or maintaining employment
- Extra home chores
- Loss of everyday privileges such as phone, television, etc.
- Minimum wage project – the youth must prepare a monthly budget using a minimum wage salary
If the child does not return for the review hearing or does not complete all assigned sanctions as directed, the case is referred back to the State Attorney’s Office for prosecution with a letter explaining the lack of compliance. Successful participants are congratulated for taking responsibility for their actions and receive a copy of the final report denoting successful completion of the program and proof they have not been convicted of a crime.