Advanced level English
are judged by others of the same age group
In the small city of Odessa, western Texas, local judicial authorities
have reinterpreted the old legal principle that offenders
by a jury of their peers
. Odessa's "Teen Court" is one
of over a thousand such courts in the USA, where teens themselves
are responsible for trying and sentencing teenage offenders.
And the results are very encouraging..
The teen court in Odessa, Texas.
In the year 1215, the Norman barons of
England drew up an ultimatum that they presented to King John and
forced him to sign. Among other things, the document, called Magna Carta
great charter, formally recognized basic human rights, and
re-established one of the fundamental principles of English law
— that a man should be judged by his peers, or equals. Trial
by a jury has been a key feature of English law ever since.
When Thomas Jefferson and others drew up
the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, one of the complaints
that they made was that the King of England had deprived
their right to trial by jury. Twelve years later, this right was
in Article III of the new Constitution of the United States
where it has remained ever since.
But what is a jury of equals? Is a
teenager, faced with a jury composed of people his parents' age, being
judged by his peers? Most teens would answer "no".
The idea of "teen courts" has been
around in the USA for many years. It was in the 1980s in
the Teen Court was first suggested. Realizing that many teenage
offenders were alienated
by a justice system organized and controlled
by people of a different generation, the court in Odessa decided to let
offenders opt to be tried by other teenagers.
Many thousands of teens have since been
tried by their peers in Odessa, and almost all agree that it was the
right thing to do. Statistics confirm this, as rates of recidivism
among teens tried in different Teen Courts are under 5% (compared to up
to 50% with normal courts).
Odessa's Teen Court is one of many now
operating in the state of Texas, which in 1990 became the first
to establish a state-wide organization to develop teen courts.
Until the 1990s, the number of new courts increased slowly;
but since the millennium, hundreds more cities all across the USA have
seen that the system works, and have introduced it in their own
community. In 2007, the idea crossed the Atlantic, with the opening of
the first teen court in England, in Preston, Lancashire.
operate in just the same way as a real court, the major difference
being that the only professional in the process
is the judge. Run by
volunteers, the court sits every Tuesday evening under the control of a
local judge, also a volunteer; proceedings are conducted as in a real
court, with teenagers taking the roles of prosecution
and defense: a
panel of teens sits as jury, and it is they who propose the sentence
they consider to be appropriate.
While there is no possibility of an
Odessa teen jury fining
an offender or sending him or her to prison,
there is a range of punishments available, including community service,
driving classes, counseling and also jury service in the Teen Court.
The range of sentences available reflects the type of offenses referred
to the court, minor misdeeds such as traffic violations, (including
speeding), fighting, vandalism and intoxication. Furthermore, the Court
only has the right to judge other teens who have (a) decided to plead
, and (b) agreed to be tried by their peers.
Most other Teen Courts that have been
set up operate with similar restrictions, though some, more
controversially, have been given powers to determine guilt or innocence
in certain cases, and even recommend detention.
Teens who opt for trial by the Teen
Court, thinking that it will be a soft option, are generally surprised.
A Los Angeles teen jury recently sentenced 14-year old Michael C.
to 600 hours (!) of community service for stealing a car stereo. Judge
Jamie Corral, presiding, reduced the sentence to 200 hours, but Michael
still had to spend a lot of his free time for six months doing
community service as a gardener at Abraham Lincoln High School. "I
didn't expect them to be so hard on me, but I deserved it," he said
In 2015, there are well over
1000 teen courts in operation across the United States, and
the number is increasing month by month. Teens, judges and community
leaders all agree that the system is good, and especially good at
stopping young offenders going any further down the road to a life of
crime. Evidence shows that young offenders are much more receptive to
warnings and reprimands and punishments delivered by their peers, than
to those delivered by "the authorities".
Finally, it is not only teens who are
benefitting from the Teen Court. In Odessa, teenage offenders have now
contributed over 100,000 hours of community service to the city and to
volunteer organizations since the Teen Court was first set up,
something that has not gone unnoticed by local residents. "Because of
these youth giving the community service hours back to the City of
Odessa, they have become an effective part of our community," says
Tammy Hawkins, the project's coordinator. "We have found that the kids
that are active in the Teen Court Program have less of a desire to drop
out of school. They've found a purpose in their lives, and in their own
neighborhoods they feel safer because they are becoming an active part
of the community."
minor criminal - to try:
judge - peer:
person of similar situation
deprive of :
take away something - enshrined:
included - alienated :
marginalized - recidivism:
committing the same crime again - process:
system (this word has no
judicial meaning) - prosecution:
lawyers who accuse
financial punishment - guilty:
resource is ©
copyright Linguapress 2015. Updated from an
Spectrum magazine in 1995.
This text may not
on other websites
in printed form without written permission from the publishers.
Reproduction is authorised exclusively for personal use by students, or
for use by teachers with their classes.
Find words or expresions in the text which mean
to take something away from someone
a penalty ordered by a court
the act of damaging property
people living nearby
up to the present time
a reason for living
Verbs and verb forms : put the verbs back into the correct form, without consulting the original article
The idea of "teen courts" has (be) _____ around in the USA for
many years. It was in the 1980s in Odessa that the Teen Court was
first (suggest)____________. (Realize) ____________ that many teenage
offenders were (alienat) ____________ by a justice system (organize)
____________ and (control) ____________ by people of a different
generation, the court in Odessa (decide)____________ to let offenders
opt (try) _________________ by other teenagers.
Odessa's Teen Court is one of many now (operate) ____________in the
state of Texas, which in 1990 (become) ____________ the first American
state (establish) _________________ a state-wide organization
(develop) ____________ teen courts. Until the 1990s, the
number of new courts (increase) _______________ slowly; but since the
millennium, hundreds more cities all across the USA (see)
_____________ that the system (work) _______ , and (introduced)
_________________ it in their own community. In 2007, the idea
(cross) ___________ the Atlantic, with the (open) ___________ of
the first teen court in England, in Preston, Lancashire.
Teachers section : Using this article in class
text contains a good selection of the basic vocabulary of the law
court. Have students pick out all the legal vocabulary, and explain it
where necessary. Note that the word "process" does not have any
specific legal meaning. It does not mean "trial".
judicial, legal, offender, offense, try, sentence, rights, principles,
law, jury, to judge, justice system, recidivism, court, judge, jury,
prosecution, defense, sentence, to fine, to plead guilty, to determine
guilt or innocence, detention.
2 Word search
final warning (ultimatum
to take something away from someone (deprive
a penalty ordered by a court (sentence
the act of damaging property (vandalism
established (set up
people living nearby (local residents
up to the present time (so fa
a reason for living (a purpose in their lives
This article is divided into 4 sections. Have
students determine the three breaks. What are the four different
(Paras 1-3, introduction: paras 4-6 zoom in on Odessa ; paras 7-9, development of the
core subject. Para. 10-12 : conclusion (appreciation).)
students reduce each of the above-determined sections to a single
sentence of at least 30 words
have students say, in about 400 words, why
they think the Teen Court system is good or bad.
6 Role Play:
Conduct sessions of the teen court in class. You will need the
An offender ("Johnny" has "borrowed" a
car for an evening / Janice (16) was drunk in the town center / Steve
drove his motorbike too fast in the town center / Martha was caught
picking a big bunch of flowers in a public garden.... or use your
A presiding judge (or two)
One or two lawyers for the defense
One or two prosecuting lawyers.
Two witnesses (one for prosecution, 1
A jury of two or three.
Divide class into groups of four, and get each group to imagine details
of a supposed offense, and write them down. In due course, each group
will present its scenario to the class, and the best one(s) will be
selected as role plays.
Remember, this Teen Court cannot
determine guilt and innocence. Its aim is to determine the seriousness
of the offense, to see if there are mitigating circumstances, and pass
judgement in function.
Teams of 5 to 8 students should then
prepare the role play, after distributing the roles (except the jury,
who will be selected from a different group). For maximum authenticity,
prosecution (+ witness), defense (+witness) and judges should
prepare their roles separately.
After allowing sufficient time for
preparation, conduct a session of the teen court in class. Allow 15 to
20 minutes per case — longer if it really gets going well!
EFL teachers: Help develop this resource by contributing extra teaching
materials or exercises.
copyright Linguapress 2015.
Revised 2015 . Originally published in Spectrum, the Advanced level
Republication on other websites or in print is not authorised