APC started as an idea…
Athens-Clarke County Juvenile Court Judge Robin Shearer was interested in starting a program to meet the needs of first-time, misdemeanor youth offenders while still holding the youth accountable. In early 2011, Judge Shearer met Emily Boness, a faculty member at the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia.
Emily was a participant in Anchorage Youth Court while in high school and was looking to recreate that experience for youth in Athens. Together, the two hosted community meetings to gauge support for the creation of a Peer Court. Members of the community, including police officers, social workers, probation officers, lawyers and students participated in helping to think about how to structure the program to meet the needs of Athens-Clarke County.
Became a reality…
The first training for high school students was completed in February 2012. Thirteen youth from Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central completed a 14-hour training hosted at the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development. Members of Street Law, a student organization at UGA’s law school, volunteered throughout the training to help participants learn the skills needed to be good advocates, judges and jurors in disposition (sentencing) hearings.
On March 6, 2012, Athens Peer Court heard its first case! For the first five months, nine of our original thirteen remained committed to the program and volunteered twice a month for hearings, as well as participated in continued training and improved the program with their ideas and enthusiasm.
And continues to grow!
In May 2012, Athens Peer Court received a grant from the Georgia Governor’s Office of Children and Families to support continued operations and training needs. A second training session was completed in August 2012, more than doubling the number of volunteers. We now hold court once a week throughout the year and can hear up to three cases each evening. In the summer of 2013, we received a grant renewal to continue the program.
Upon the conclusion of our initial three year grant, Athens Clarke County juvenile court has continued to support peer court with private grant funding and additional funds. As of April 2018, we have over 40 active volunteers from four high school and four middle schools and serve about 80 youth offenders a year. We have held hearings for 500 youth respondents since we began. Throughout the year, we host continued leadership and training opportunities for our volunteers.
About how we operate
The Athens-Clarke County Juvenile Court and the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia have collaborated to bring Athens Peer Court to life. Fanning trains and manages the participant volunteers, while the Juvenile Court refers appropriate cases to Athens Peer Court. Law students from Street Law at the UGA’s School of Law help to train and mentor our participants, as well as provide guidance and insight into how to improve. The Department of Juvenile Justice manages the youth offenders once they have received a disposition.