Continuing the successful Donald P. McCullum Youth Court, founded in 1994, Centerforce non-profit, headed by interim director Dolores Lyles, now oversees the program.
The program serves youth age 12-17, and gradPuates about 15-20 students a year.
Meant to divert youth from juvenile hall, Youth Court has two basic components: the Youth Offenders Program for first-time misdemeanor offenders, and the Law & Justice Program, an intense program which teaches students all aspects of law and courtroom processes.
Alana Russaw, with a Psy.D., in Clinical Psychology, is the Youth Court Program Manager and part-time facilitators, Angela Adams, Law and Justice Coordinator, and Leslie Santiago, Lead Case Manager, complete the team.
“We want to get the word out,” says Dr. Russaw. “Youth Court is a diversion program meant to serve Alameda County youth – we want to keep them out of juvenile hall and put them on a good path forward.
Dr. Russaw said staff reach out to youth probation, police, schools, churches, parents, and community groups for referral for both first time offenders and volunteers.
“We want more case referrals and more youth and adult volunteers,” she said.
And Youth Court really is an official courtroom hearing, staffed by trained youth in courtroom roles, with adult guest judges, and with a “sentence” given by the youth’s peers. After completing their “sentence” – perhaps classes, community service, a letter of apology – graduates records are cleared by the Youth Probation Department.
Key partners with Youth Court are Wendy Still, the new Probation Department Chief Program Officer, Jennifer Brown, Division Director of Alameda County Juvenile Field Services, and Stacy Wooten, Deputy Chief of Probation.
Graduates also come back to volunteer. “This program meant a lot to me,” said Marshall McMahon, a former offender ten years ago, and now a volunteer.
“I want to give back to other kids, and eventually become a filmmaker.”
Field trips are also part of the program. Dr. Russaw and Ms. Adams will take 8 students to a Labor and Occupational Health Program academy at UC Berkeley, January 26-28, to learn workplace rituals promoting health and safety.
Dr. Russaw emphasized, “We want youth on a good path forward. Our goal is to help students get into college whether their passion is law and justice or not!”
For more information: Call Program Manager Dr. Russaw, 510-773-2502, or go to www.centerforce1.org.