Program tracks teen courts

Two cities in Oregon that have a peer-administered teen justice program are sharing their successful software applications with similar programs in other cities.

In the West Eugene and Bethel teen courts, created in 1997, volunteers ages 12 to 17 conduct hearings for juvenile first offenders who are willing to accept peer consideration of their actions as an alternative to juvenile court.

To track the progress of the program and its participants, Eugene's Information Services Division developed a software program that tracks and produces reports on information such as a juvenile's return to criminal behavior, jury composition, parental information, program volunteers and program completion rates.

Bruce Steinmitz, supervisor of the Teen Court program and a programmer for Eugene's Recreation Services Division, originally asked for help in cutting down paperwork. "I don't know anything about computers, so they sat me down for several hours and had me tell them all about the program and everything I wanted to keep track of," Steinmitz said.

"Because the program is relatively new, we wanted to have some benchmarks on how it's working and help us understand how best to keep it running," said Julie Gilbert, an application designer with the Information Services Division.

The application can be modified and updated as the program evolves and adds new features. It is not available to the public.

The program can produce a mandated quarterly report detailing program results, satisfying a requirement of the federal Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grants program, which provides $60,000 a year for the city's Teen Court program.

"Normally it would take a long time to compile and organize into report form all the necessary information, but the software program has a feature which allows you to simply plug in a time frame and it basically does the rest," Steinmitz said.

Coordinators for two other state teen peer court models in Fern Ridge and Springfield were so impressed with Eugene's application that they asked if Eugene officials would be willing to make it available to them. The city gave each community a licensed copy of the Teen Court application for a token fee of $1.

According to Steinmitz, there are about 500 teen peer-oriented justice programs in the country, mainly in small cities. Oregon has 40 such programs.

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