For Immediate Release:  Mar 25, 2011
2011, 03, 25

Hofstra Law Students Work With Nassau County DA’s Office to Train Participants in Youth Court Program

Hofstra Law Students Work With Nassau County DA’s Office to Train Participants in Youth Court Program

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Kristen McMahon
Director of Public Relations
Hofstra Law
Phone: 516.463.4252
E-mail: Kristen.D.McMahon@hofstra.edu

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — At the age of 16, Stefan Campagna, now in his second year at Hofstra Law School, stood before a youth court in Sarasota, Florida, accused of three felonies. The court heard his case, and he was sentenced to 150 hours of community service and 18 terms of jury duty in youth court by a panel of his peers.

Now, eight years later, Campagna — along with his classmate Rob Castillo 2L — is working with the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office to train a class of volunteers from local high schools to take part in the DA office’s Youth Court program, which held its first session yesterday at the Hempstead Village Court.

“About halfway through my jury duty service, I realized that I would be back in the youth court system one day, either as a defendant or on the other side of the law,” Campagna said. “The experience gave me direction and encouraged me to follow my dreams of practicing law and advancing youth courts in order to help other kids get their lives on track."

Youth courts are specialized diversion programs for juveniles in which they are sentenced by their peers. Each year, approximately 125,000 youth appear before by youth courts in more than 1,000 community-based programs nationwide. As part of the youth court program, offenders who appear before the courts must agree to the peer-decided sentence, which typically involves restorative justice, such as community service. 

All the leadership positions in youth courts  including attorneys, juries, bailiffs and clerks  are filled by high school students. Under direction from the DA’s office, Campagna and Castillo are training volunteers from Hempstead and Uniondale high schools who have enlisted to fill these necessary roles.

At the outset, the youth court will aim to hold one session per week. Youth court defendants will be referred to the system from several sources, including local high schools, probation departments, family courts and the juvenile justice system.

In February, Campagna attended the American Bar Association (ABA) Midyear Meeting in Atlanta, where he participated as an expert in a panel discussion on “A Proven Response for Teens in Trouble: Creating and Sustaining Quality Youth Courts.” During the discussion, Campagna spoke candidly about his initial experience with youth courts to lawyers from around the country.

In addition to these efforts, Campagna and Castillo have also helped draft a statute that would standardize the use of youth courts statewide. The New York State Bar Association will vote on the measure soon.

“I know from experience that recidivism can be reduced when young people are diverted away from the traditional justice system,” Campagna said. “It is for this reason that I am committed to supporting and advancing youth courts in Nassau County, New York state and beyond.”

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The Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University is located 40 minutes from New York City in suburban Long Island. Hofstra Law is home to nearly 850 students, an alumni base of more than 10,600 members and a distinguished faculty of more than 50 professors, including many scholars recognized as national and international experts in their field. The law school is part of Hofstra University and is fully accredited by the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar of the American Bar Association.

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