The Queens Defenders Youth Justice Court program serves as a bridge to mend relationships in communities and schools throughout Queens. Teens volunteer to join our program and become trained peer prosecutors, defense attorneys, and jurors in trials where their peers committed an act that violated school code or laws. Using a restorative justice approach, teens deliberate and deliver a beneficial consequence to help the young person acknowledge their wrong and learn from it.

Pre-pandemic, meetings were held in person at neighboring Queens Libraries and high schools. There, the young people would learn about the process of a criminal trial, legal terms, and constructing oral arguments. Using mock-trials that we created based on high-profile cases and celebrity names, the young people strengthened their trial argument skills.

Fast forward to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the youth justice court team worked tirelessly to move the program completely virtual. With the state-mandated lockdown, we had to construct new material and lessons that would be easy to deliver through a virtual platform. We revamped our focus to incorporate the issues at hand: voters’ rights, police brutality, Know Your Rights workshops, and the Black Lives Matter movement. We wanted the youth to become informed on issues arising in their communities.

Despite moving to virtual programming, our young people continued to log-in each week.  They wanted a place to voice their opinions on the current events impacting their communities and allow them to express their passion and concerns. This sparked many passionate debates that often exceed past the scheduled program time.  Because the issues we discuss have lit a fire in our young people, they are now researching their topics to support their reasoning and strengthen their arguments. Each week we are able to teach and discuss new policies and laws that play a major role in the events happening today.  

To apply or learn more about our YJC Programs, click here.