In 2011 PSR Philadelphia began the revitalization of the Youth Court Program in four Philadelphia high schools. Youth court programs strive to nurture in youth a respect for the rule of law, help develop positive citizenship attitudes, encourage civic engagement, and promote educational success through an array of service learning opportunities, strategies and activities. Youth courts, employing youth as jurors, judges and attorneys and handling real-life cases involving their peers, are structured to provide positive alternative sanctions for first-time offenders, allowing young people to take responsibility, to be held accountable, and to make restitution.
The goal of Youth Court is to use positive peer pressure to ensure that young people who have committed minor offenses pay back to the community and receive the help they need to avoid further involvement in the school disciplinary system. This program is designed to serve as an alternative to In-School and Out-of-School suspensions, which do little to actually address errant behavior. By providing an alternative to out-of-school suspension, the PSR Youth Court Program addresses behavioral issues using peer accountability and is based on the principles of balanced and restorative justice (BARJ).
BARJ principles include:
- Crime hurts individual victims, communities and juvenile offenders, and creates an obligation to make things right.
- All parties should be a part of the response to the crime or infraction, including the victim if he or she wishes, the community and the juvenile offender.
- Accountability for the juvenile offender means accepting responsibility and acting to repair the harm done.
- The community is responsible for the well-being of all its members, including both victim and offender.
- Restoration - repairing the harm and rebuilding relationships in the community - is the primary goal of restorative juvenile justice.