Juvenile court offers teens a chance to fix past mistakes

The Youth Diversion Program will allow young first-time offenders to face a jury of teenagers.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. “It’s the first of its kind in Virginia. Jered Grimes, director of juvenile services at Newport News, said the city’s new youth diversion program aims to help young first-time offenders correct past mistakes.

“Where they developed a record and that record will stay with them through their youthful years,” Grimes said.

The program, also known as Youth Court, will allow a teenager who commits a minor offense to appear before a jury of their peers and take responsibility for their wrongdoings. Grimes said those offenses include abusive language, vandalism and certain driving violations. Then the jury decides the teenager’s consequences.

“Community work,” he said. “These will be letters of apology. It could be verbal apologies in court, in front of the victim in quotes.”

The only adult in this process is a practicing attorney who will sit as a judge.

Until last year, Virginia Code did not allow this program. 93rd District Delegate Michael Mullin introduced this legislation at the 2021 General Assembly at the request of the city. The law is passed unanimously.

“It will give them an opportunity to change course and return to acceptable behavior in their community,” he said.

Grimes said the ultimate goal for many teenagers is to avoid the juvenile justice system.

“Our end goal is to get them back on track and keep them out of the system that is sometimes hard to leave once you’re in it,” he said.

Grimes said the program will receive youth referrals from the courts, the police department and the school division. He said he hopes to start the first session in June.

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