The St. Mary’s County Department of Aging and Human Services on June 27 hosted the Teen Court Volunteer Recognition Banquet at Elks Lodge 2092 in California.

“The banquet was an opportunity to express our appreciation to our partnering agencies for their long-term commitment over the years to develop, strengthen and expand the program as well as recognize our adult and teen volunteers who are so very valuable and important to the continued success of the program,” Cynthia Brown, the county’s human services division manager, said in a release.

This was the first banquet held since 2012. The St. Mary’s County Teen Court program began in 2003 and, to date, has diverted nearly 900 teen offenders from the formal juvenile justice system.

Teen Court is a partnership between St. Mary’s County government, the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, the State’s Attorney’s Office for St. Mary’s County, the St. Mary’s sheriff’s office and St. Mary’s public schools. It is designed to reduce the number of youthful offenders and educate youth in an actual court environment.

Teen Court is a juvenile justice diversion program offering first-time misdemeanor offenders, ages 11 to 17, and first-time traffic offenders under the age of 18, the opportunity to accept accountability for their minor crimes without having to incur a permanent criminal record or traffic court fines and points, according to the release.

“Teen Court is a unique voluntary program that allows juvenile respondents to be judged by a jury of their peers. It is truly a program of teens helping teens,” Gregory Jones, Teen Court coordinator, said in the release. “The St. Mary’s County Teen Court program provides a unique opportunity for teens who make their first really bad decision that results in their getting arrested or charged with a traffic offense, with an opportunity to get a second chance in life. The teen jurors are incredibly insightful and fair to their fellow teens. It is a program that truly works and does make a difference on most of those offenders fortunate enough to have their case diverted to Teen Court.”

Teen Court utilizes teen volunteers ages 11 to 17 to serve on the jury, hear details about the offense, and determine the appropriate “sanctions” imposed on the offender to help him or her see changes needed to make better decisions. Adult volunteers are needed to serve as administrative aids, jury monitors and community judges.

“Our Teen Court program is one the department is very proud of and all the volunteers who make time to help improve the lives of others,” Lori Jennings-Harris, department of aging and human services director, said in the release.

For more information, visit www.stmarysmd.com/teencourt. Any adult or teen interested in volunteering with Teen Court can contact Jones at 301-475-4200, ext. 71852, or at Gregory.Jones@stmarysmd.com.