South Coast Youth Courts gets funding, reopens

By: Melissa Randall

mrandall@abc6.com

@MRandallABC6

Two months after closing due to a lack of funding the South Coast Youth Courts are back in business. $175,000 was donated from various school and law enforcement departments among others to help keep the program a float for another year.

The youth courts handle behavioral issues and misdemeanor crimes. The defendants are young people and so are the lawyers arguing their cases as well as the jury’s deciding their fates.

“It’s just the age group is better because you are closer to them so you understand them better than an adult,” said Kendra Bento, 17, of Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical School.

Student volunteers like Bento and Peter Cornell are making a positive impact on their peers in the Fall River and New Bedford communities.

“They were not the same kids I talked to when they came through the court room. They are now involved in sports, taking hard classes—some of the top kids in the school,” explained Cornell, 17, of New Bedford High School.

But all of that hard work was recently put in jeopardy. The federal grant that supported the program ran out in September. Then on Monday the students got good news about a new source of funding. With that money the court will be able to help about 160 kids.

“It’s a chance for them to learn from their mistakes, make amends to the community and more importantly avoid a criminal record which is more and more of a bigger issue in today’s society,” said Thomas Quinn, Bristol County District Attorney.

“We rely heavily on youth court. It’s an outlet for us not just to send children into the justice system. We keep them diverted. Everyone wants to divert the kids out of the pipeline,” said Sgt. James Pacheco, a School Resource Officer with the Fall River Police Department.

South Coast Youth Courts has been in existence since 2001. It touts a 92 percent success rate among participants, and a low rate of repeat offenders.

Previously the program worked with kids from 5th grade to 12th grade. They are now expanding that to age 24.

© WLNE-TV 2015