The St. Mary’s University School of Law began piloting a new program, Peer Court, this fall to divert local high school students away from the criminal justice system.
The program is a joint partnership between the law school, the San Antonio Municipal Court and Lanier High School in the San Antonio Independent School District, said Gregory Zlotnick, Staff Attorney and Supervisor of the Pro Bono Program housed in the law school’s Center for Legal and Social Justice.
Students who commit minor infractions, such as truancy, can agree to attend Peer Court, said Zlotnick, who is overseeing the University’s contributions to the program. Those who choose the Peer Court option – which includes admitting wrongdoing, participating in a proceeding and completing the sentence handed down – will have no formal case filed through the juvenile justice system.
At Peer Court, the student charged with an infraction is represented by a fellow high school student and appears in front of a jury of his or her peers. This peer jury determines the consequences based on the Peer Court proceedings. In addition to truancy, other types of misconduct under consideration for Peer Court include curfew violations, disorderly conduct and disrupting class.
“This program is a chance for the high school students to take ownership over the application of justice and fairness,” Zlotnick said.
The Peer Court is hosted at the St. Mary’s University School of Law, and its law students serve as advisers to the Lanier student attorneys.
While Peer Court is currently a pilot program, Zlotnick said he has already seen interest in expanding it to additional schools.