Teen Court Cases on the Rise During a Changing Economy

By: Sarah Snyder
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - It's as close to the real thing as you can get: there's a judge, attorneys, the defendant and jurors, but they're all under 18. And lately Midland's Teen Court is seeing a growing number of cases. When a student receives a citation they can either pay up or go to Teen Court.

Midland happens to have one of the first teen courts in the state of Texas and in the entire U.S.

It's seen many changes over the years, but lately as our local economy shifts there's also been a big change in the number of student offenders.

"We always have thefts, we always have fighting, curfew, alcohol related, drug paraphenalia, lots of disorderly conduct," Teen Court Executive Director Mary Beck, said.

Changes in the law have kept the number of teen court cases fluctuating each year, but during the boom they saw a drop off in the volume of student cases mostly because the families had more money than time to spend in court. But now, it's just the opposite.

"People are choosing it because the pendulum has swung and now there's more time than money," Beck said.

Student jurors and attorneys along with two Midland County judges volunteer their time to hear the cases. They try kids ages 10 to 18 in several court sessions each month. The offender is sentenced to community service, special classes, and jury service. After they've served their time the offense is erased from their permanent record.

"It's rewarding just in its own experience, because I do think that it helps young students who have made poor choices learn to make better choices in the future," Teen Court Attorney Christine Folger, said.

Teen court is funded through city, county, school and individual donors. Midland I.S.D. holds their Teen Court about three times every month, even during the summer. Each court session lasts a couple hours and involves as many as 100 students from across the district.