Peer jury program makes students judges, jury
BY JEANNE MILLSAP Correspondent June 13, 2013 5:00PM
Hannah Buchanan (from left), Brianna Franzen, Jacey Daniels and Chase Hermann (not pictured) were recognized at a recent Channahon Village Board meeting. | Jeanne Millsap~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 15, 2013 7:50PM
It used to be that when Channahon teens strayed a bit from what was legal and right, they ended up in juvenile court or “in the system,” where a series of adults determined a course of punitive action.
But for the last four years, those between the ages of 13 and 17 accused of committing a crime in the village have been able to go through the Channahon Police Department’s peer jury program, where the offenders, or “referred teens” as they are called, sit before a panel of carefully chosen teenagers from their own school who determine what should be done about their situations.
The peer jury system worked so well that the neighboring Minooka Police Department recently adopted the program as well.
Four of these peer jurors who were among the founders of the program just graduated from Minooka Community High School last month and recently were honored by the Channahon Village Board for their service.
Hannah Buchanan, Brianna Franzen, Jacey Daniels and Chase Hermann (the latter in absentia) were given certificates of recognition and thanked for their participation.
“It’s been kind of cool,” Brianna said. “You feel a connection with all the kids, and you want to help them. You get to hear their story and get to know them and find out why they did what they did. ... Sometimes you try to put them in a position where they can get help.”
The program was begun by then-Channahon Police Chief Joe Pena, who is now village administrator. He began a peer jury program as chief of the East Dundee Police Department a few years ago and saw tremendous benefits to the offenders, as well as to the department and the community.
Peer jury programs are found in various Chicago-area communities, such as Hoffmann Estates, Elgin, Palatine and New Trier Township, and there is a joint program in the Homewood-Flossmoor area.
Channahon’s peer jury program is overseen by police Detective Adam Bogart and Village Trustee Missey Schumacher. Teens who have been caught breaking laws and are deemed suitable for the program are routed to the peer jurists, rather than to the court or juvenile system.
Those who have committed violent crimes or drug offenses are not considered for the program. Mostly, Bogart said, teens who go through the program were arrested for trespassing, fighting, theft and property crimes such as graffiti.
“The program has gone fantastic,” Bogart said. “It’s less punitive and takes a burden off the court system. It also allows the teens to see the harm their offenses have caused through the eyes of their peers.”
Those who were wronged also have the opportunity to attend the peer jury session to give the teen offender some insight on how the crime affected the victim personally. The peer jury hears from the referred teen, then gives them consequences for their actions, which might include community service, writing an essay, sending a letter of apology, or even face-to-face apologies.
In one case, a referred teen was taken to the Will County State’s Attorney’s office to hear of the trial of an adult who committed the same offense as the teen had.
Schumacher said she knew when establishing the program the effect it would have on the referred teens, but she underestimated how much it would positively affect the teen jurors. She has seen those attributes reflected in her four founding teens.
“We call them ‘The Fantastic Four,’ ” Schumacher said. “These guys have been truly impressive. As they have grown up, there have been times when they have handled the whole hearing, with us there just to supervise.”