From the President, 0821 GABJ, GSB Vol. 27, No. 1, Pg. 6

AuthorELIZABETH L. FITE, President State Bar of Georgia
PositionVol. 27 1 Pg. 6

From the President

Vol. 27 No. 1 Pg. 6

Georgia Bar Journal

August, 2021

ELIZABETH L. FITE, President State Bar of Georgia

Peer Courts: Showing Young Offenders a Different Path

I grew up in an area of southern Ar- kansas that was economically distressed and, likely as a result, I witnessed a fair amount of conflict and violence in my school. To address the increase in violence, my school implemented a peer mediation program when I was in middle school as an alternative means of discipline for some of the students who were getting into trouble. I was selected to be trained and serve as a peer mediator.

As a middle school student, serving as a peer mediator was an eye-opener. It ultimately led me to understand the importance of a “jury of one’s peers.” For the student referred to the program, they often responded more favorably to talking to a fellow student and resolving whatever the underlying conflict was that gave rise to the infraction. It also created a sense of civic responsibility in the students to help their peers. These experiences helped form my appreciation of the justice system’s role in helping people peacefully resolve their problems. It is no surprise that those years heavily influenced my decision to become a lawyer.

For the last nine years, through a joint effort of state and local agencies, Georgia has successfully run its own peer court for juvenile offenders. Founded in 2012 as a collaboration with the Athens-Clarke County Juvenile Court, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, the University of Georgia School of Law and UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, the Athens Peer Court is a diversionary program that offers young people who have been arrested a chance to have their cases’ dispositions decided by fellow middle and high school students who are trained to serve as lawyers, judges, jurors and bailiffs.

Georgia’s second peer court was started in 2015 by the Forsyth County Juvenile Court, supported by a grant from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and in coordination with the Fanning Institute, which is working to expand into other counties as soon as possible.

In both Athens-Clarke and Forsyth County, youth volunteers conduct sentencing hearings for their peers who are first-time defendants charged with various misdemeanor offenses. The youth offenders who successfully complete their dispositions are able to learn from...

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