My Experiences with Peer Jury in Downers Grove Township
By Mimi A. Raffenetti
Peer Jury in Downers Grove Township began in 2000, and I was a part of it from the very beginning. One of my key roles in the Program was to get to know and support the teens who were required to do community service and to ensure they fulfilled their commitment and complete the Program. Teens and their families benefited from the experience of Peer Jury.
Jurors were nominated by high school principals and counselors. The young adults and teens ages 11 to 18 came before a group of their peers because they had committed a minor offense. After appearing before the jury, teens were assigned community service hours. Assignments were from ten to fifty hours. They also had to write letters of apology and often had to make restitution. Teens did their community service with me at a local library. Everyone benefited from the program.
The Peer Jury program had a 94% success rate. That means 94 out of 100 participants did not commit another crime. If they stayed out of trouble for the following year their records were wiped clean. Many of the people working with the teens were volunteers.
My experience working with the program was very positive. The young adults owned up to the offenses and really wanted to change their behavior. They learned how to deal with situations where they might get into trouble, and their peers often taught them what to say and do when confronted with difficult choices. Often their peers told them to walk away, tell your friends you can’t do this, say this is wrong, or tell others you don’t want to get into trouble again.
We taught young people how to make new friends by asking them to join two clubs at school. I often recommend the drama department at their schools. I did this because these students would easily find they could help with buildings sets, acting or monitoring the light and sound systems. There was a lot they could do and make friends while doing the work. Many students took this suggestion and came back to me at the library to tell me how much fun they had and how they made new friends.
The Peer Jury Program also helped parents and the students who worked as jurors. Parents listened to their children, learned about what was going on in their child’s school and free time. Several parents came back to thank me for helping their child. The students that worked as jurors were the best of the best. I taught high school for nearly 20 years, and I saw the benefits they received from the Program.
Peer Jury was a success, and when it was eliminated, police officers, principals, parents, volunteers, and students were surprised and upset. Successful Peer Jury programs are ongoing in Elgin, Elmhurst, Evanston, Palatine, and Schaumburg. If cost is an issue, money could be obtained from fundraisers and donations from civic organizations, and offenders could be required to pay a fee. It is my opinion that canceling a program with a 94% success rate doesn’t make sense.