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April 8, 2010

THE NEW YORK BAR FOUNDATION HOSTS INAUGURAL STATEWIDE NEW YORK STATE YOUTH COURT CONFERENCE

Attendees to Participate in a Series of Workshops Designed to Promote and Strengthen New York's Youth Court System 

Youth court advocates from across the State today gathered at the headquarters of the New York State Bar Association in Albany for the first-ever statewide New York State Youth Court Conference. Hosted by The New York Bar Foundation, and co-sponsored by the Center for Court Innovation, the Association of New York State Youth Courts, and New York State Courts Access to Justice, the conference consisted of several workshops designed for participants to learn about ways to support, advance and strengthen New York's youth court system.

There are more than 80 youth courts operating throughout New York. Participating teens are trained to serve as jurors, judges and attorneys, and hear real-life cases of their peers involving offenses such as truancy, school fighting, vandalism, marijuana possession and shoplifting. Sanctions from the courts typically include community service, letters of apology, essays and counseling.  The courts are overseen by volunteer judges, attorneys, educators, and law enforcement officials. The courts use positive peer pressure to ensure that young people who commit even minor offenses give back to the community and avoid further involvement in the justice system.

"Youth courts play an important part in educating our children about the significant role that the justice system plays in our democratic society," said State Bar President Michael E. Getnick (Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore, LLP of Utica and of counsel to Getnick & Getnick of New York City). "Participation in youth courts provides young people with an opportunity to become actively engaged citizens in their communities and delivers a powerful message to youth offenders about the negative consequences of their actions. I want to thank all of the attendees here today for their commitment toward instructing our youth about the importance of the law and our courts."

Attendees at the conference participated in a series of panel discussions focusing on improving New York's youth courts. Topics included opportunities for promoting youth development through active participation in community service, developing and supporting youth court mentoring programs, and using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs to promote the concept of youth courts. Administrators from the Town of Colonie Youth Court, the Cattaraugus County Youth Court, and the Warren County Youth Court also shared their best practices for holding youth court hearings.

"The stakes for juveniles today could not be higher, and youth courts are a key part of the solution for a juvenile justice system that is currently in a state of crisis," said Judith S. Kaye, former Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York and keynote speaker at the conference. "Youth courts provide the right message and the right messenger to educate young people about the law and about the importance of civic participation. I want to commend today's conference attendees for all of their hard work and for their interest in strengthening and expanding the state's youth courts to make them a model for New York and the world." 

"The State Bar proudly supports youth courts and their mission of providing a juvenile justice alternative that is operated for and by young people," State Bar President-Elect Stephen P. Younger (Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP of New York City) told conference attendees. "The young people who participate in youth courts encounter a life-changing experience. We applaud the efforts of judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, educators and, of course, young people who make it possible for youth courts to be so successful in giving young offenders a second chance."

Younger also announced at the conference that one of his first initiatives upon becoming State Bar President on June 1 will be to assemble a Special Committee on Youth Courts, chaired by Judge Kaye, that will "tap the expertise of people who have both a heart for our young people and the determination to help New York's youth courts meet their important mission."

During the conference, Foundation Board Director and Fellows Chair, Susan B. Lindenauer, presented three grant awards to the Center for Court Innovation.  The grants will be used to provide funding to expand an existing initiative to develop a recommended practices manual to support New York State's network of Youth Courts; for the Staten Island Youth Court, a leadership development program that provides opportunities for local teens to hear cases involving low-level offenses committed by youth; and for the Youth Justice Board which seeks to influence juvenile justice through a model participatory democracy program that brings the voice of well-informed youth directly to policy-makers.

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Founded in 1876, the 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. The State Bar's programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.