First Youth Community Court in the Rio Grande Valley

Thursday, November 11, 2010 - 10:00am

The city of Harlingen is the only city in the valley to begin the first Youth Community Court program. What this program will do is take those minors who are committing class “C” misdemeanor offenses and take them into a more positive and educational approach, instead of having these minors pay fines for committing those crimes.

"what we want to do is bring the youth in and rather than having them pay a fine because often it's not the youth paying the fine, it's the parents of legal guardians who do, we want to cut that fine out of the picture and actually divert these youths to service that will help them get on the right track."

Harlingen City Attorney, Roxann Cotroneo, started a similar program in Dallas while she served as the Assistant City Attorney. The program has been so successful there, it has been rated one of the best community programs in the nation.

"One of the very first things that impressed about the city is that the people are so committed and so passionate about each other and their city and a lot of the principles guided towards community court are about helping each other and getting on the right track."

The Youth Community Court is only targeted to minors, 21 years of age or younger, who commit class “C” misdemeanor offenses like traffic violations, theft under $50, minor possession of alcohol or tobacco, fighting in school, disrupting class, graffiti or minor curfew violations.

"Depending on the crime, we will narrow and tailor their punishment to not only get them back on the right track but to provide them with services that they need based on what they've committed."

The city has seen a steady decline in unlawful behavior for those under the age of 21. In 2008, Harlingen handled 3,659 cases. In 2009, that number went down to 2,951. And so far this year, the city has handled 2,431 cases.

"Many of our youth we encounter in our court system have aspirations but just don't know how to get there, or who have needs but haven't been provided any kind of services to put them on the right path."

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