CHANNAHON — A little over four years ago, the Channahon Police Department decided it would begin a program for young offenders who had not committed violent crimes or crimes involving drugs. The idea would be for those aged 13 to 17 who committed relatively minor offenses to get a sort of second chance before they were put into “the system.”
It would save taxpayers money that would have been used in the courts and jails and might even have a far-reaching positive effect on the kids. In fact, it would be run by kids of the same age. Called the “Channahon Peer Jury Program,” it has heard about 30 cases in its four years. Only one teen who has gone through the program has re-offended.
The peer jury system worked so well, in fact, that the Minooka Police Department recently adopted the program, as well, and the two departments now work together on cases.
Channahon Village Administrator Joe Pena, who was police chief at the time, came up with the idea, and current village Trustee Missey Schumacher and CPD Detective Adam Bogart have supervised it. When the program was just getting off the ground, Schumacher chose her youngest teen jurors from among eighth-grade volunteers in the Beta Club at Channahon Junior High School.
Four of those peer jurors who were among the founders of the program just graduated from Minooka Community High School in May and were honored by the Channahon village board for their service. Hannah Buchanan, Brianna Franzen, Jacey Daniels and Chase Hermann in absentia were given certificates of recognition and thanked for their participation.
“When I volunteered,” Buchanan said, “I thought it would be a good opportunity to give back to the community. But it’s been a lot of fun, too.”
Daniels volunteered because she had wanted to go into criminal justice at the time, but her career plans now are to go into elementary education. It was a great experience, she said.
“It is a good way to get these kids away from the court system,” she said. “It was tense at times, though.”
Det. Bogart said most of the teens who go through the program are arrested for such crimes as trespassing, fighting, theft and graffiti.
“The program has gone fantastic,” Bogart said. “It’s less punitive and takes a burden off the court system. It also allows the teens to see the harm their offenses have caused through the eyes of their peers.”
The peer jury meets about once a month — whenever they get cases. Teens who were arrested are not called offenders, but referred teens. With each case, the referred teen gets a chance to talk to the junior high and high school jurors and to explain to them what happened and why it happened. The jurors can ask questions, and the referred teens can give them information they might not have had the chance to offer during a “real” trial.
The jurors then gives them consequences for their actions, which might include community service, writing an essay, sending a letter of apology or even face-to-face apologies.
In one case, a referred teen was taken to the Will County State’s Attorney’s office to hear of the trial of an adult who committed the same offense as the teen had.
Those against whom the crime was committed may also attend the peer jury and tell the offender just how the crime made them feel or how it affected their lives.
Schumacher said she knew when establishing the program the effect it would have on the referred teens, but she underestimated how much it would positively affect the teen jurors. She has seen those attributes reflected in her four founding teens, including an increase in confidence and public speaking abilities.