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The White Plains Youth Bureau’s Social Justice for Youth Community Youth Court Diversion program celebrated Law Day 2022 with an all-day event at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University on Saturday.
This year’s theme was “Toward a More Perfect Union: The Constitution in Times of Change,” which sought to discuss the preamble of the United States Constitution, which states “We are the people of the United States.”
The youth-run event brought together the community through education, networking and advocacy for social justice. The event included three breakout rooms — a Career Panel with local leaders, an Evidence Collection Crime Scene with Youth Court members and a Peer Mediation to bring awareness about alternatives to school suspensions — as well as a Mock Trial for youth to show off their skills in the courtroom.
Frank Williams, Executive Director of the White Plains Youth Bureau, said the whole idea behind the Youth Court program is to provide students with the opportunity to develop their skills so they are learning about the law, equal justice and fairness.
“We know that, especially in communities of color, justice is not extended fairly,” Williams said. “So this is an opportunity for our young people to know more about the importance of law and justice but also to speak their voice to this important concern.”
Williams explained that Youth Court is an alternative juvenile justice program, with the primary goal of offering youth who have committed low-level crimes the opportunity to avoid the irreversible nature of a permanent criminal record and instead get a second chance through the program’s offerings: participation in community service, mental health counseling and substance abuse and delinquency prevention education.
Youth who go through Youth Court trials are also provided with a youth advocate and adult mentor, both of whom provide support and guidance through the process. Youth Court has an 100 percent success rate last year, with none of the individuals committing a further offense.
Williams said the event provides an opportunity for the community to embrace its young people and for youth to share what they’ve learned through participation in the program.
“When we talk about creating a more perfect union that has to start early on where people are educated, acquainted and familiar with how the law works and how it should be dispensed in every community across all sectors,” Williams said.
White Plains Mayor Tom Roach, Westchester County Executive George Latimer and Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah were all in attendance at the event.
“The Youth Court program has been very successful over the years, and this is an offshoot of that,” Mayor Roach said. “[Law Day] is a great opportunity to talk to young people about the law, its impact on daily life and how important it is for people to be engaged and choose careers in the legal field to try and ensure that we have a more just country.”
In 2021, Youth Court won an Outstanding Law Day Activity Award from the American Bar Association, as well as Proclamations from both Latimer and Roach.
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