Kane County launches, plans to expand peer jury program
A high school freshman got caught stealing her friend's iPhone 6 Plus because her own phone got taken away by her parents.
But instead of going before a judge in juvenile court, the teen admitted what she did and went in front of a jury of her peers.
The eight-student panel asked the girl questions about what she did, why she did it and what she would do differently.
And, after deliberations, the jury assigned her to visit a social worker twice, write an apology letter to her friend and complete a chart of chores as determined by her parents.
"This is your assignment, not your mom's," the peer jury administrator reminded the girl, who has a month to complete the tasks or her case will be sent to juvenile court.
Wednesday night, this was the mock scenario as Kane County launches its peer jury program.
On Nov. 19, it will be the real thing, but the peer juries normally will meet on the last Wednesday of each month.
"You can give a child advice as an adult, but coming from a teenager their own age, it really makes an impact on them. That's the point," said Laura Maglio, a Kane County Assistant State's Attorney assigned to the juvenile unit.
Maglio said the peer jury is a diversion program for first-time offenders who commit nonviolent offenses.
Maglio, who served on a peer jury when she was a student at Lake Park High School, said most offenses are for thefts, particularly cellphones, but can include drugs and disorderly conduct.
Felonies are not eligible for the program.
Kane County Sheriff Deputy Krysta Kaus, who is the school liaison officer for Central High School in Burlington, organized the peer jury program through the sheriff's office.
Aurora, Elgin and Dundee Township already have peer jury programs in place and Kaus wants all Kane County students to have the same opportunity. "We want to make sure every juvenile has the same opportunity and no one is left out simply because of their ZIP code," Kaus said.
Supporters say the program helps reduced delinquency and increase attendance. It also gives students on the peer jury a chance to volunteer.
Peer jurors must sign confidentiality agreements to not talk about the cases in school and must be in good academic standing with no unexcused absences.
"This is a very important program," Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon told students on the mock jury Wednesday. "They're good kids who made a mistake. Let' help them get back on track."
For more information about the peer jury program, call Kaus at (630) 444-3411 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.