On Thursday, January 19, as part of the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, “In Shackles: Shining a Light on Shadow America,” a panel of advocates for the Chester Youth Court program shared reflections about administrating alternative justice for students in Chester.
“The Chester Youth Courts is a student-run alternative to the traditional justice system which often leads eventually to an untimely stay in prison,” said Gregg Volz, of Stoneleigh Foundation and founder of Chester Youth Courts. “Students are trained to run a court, either in-school during class or at an after-school program, and serve as jurors, judges, and lawyers in a “courtroom” setting,” he said.
When a student is referred to an administrator for a disciplinary action, instead of being suspended or expelled, a student can attend the Youth Court, run completely by students. “Sometimes a student will write an apology letter, an essay, or perform community service as an alternative resolution,” said Mori Hitchcock, a Chester Upland high school student.
“This allows the student to receive an alternate outcome than would be handed down by the district administration or a district justice,” said Swarthmore Alumna Sofia Saiyed ’10, a Youth Court volunteer.
Swarthmore students have been critical in founding the program and volunteering with the organization since its inception. Cynthia Jetter, one of the panelists representing the Lang Center of Civic and Social Responsibility and Founder of the College Access Center of Delaware County, believes Chester Youth Courts is well aligned with Swarthmore’s commitment to positive social action. “It is a perfect example of Swarthmore’s historic volunteering in Chester and trying to make a systemic change in the lives of the young people of Chester,” she said.