During her time at HWS, Abby Tills ’14 interned at the Ontario County Youth Court in Canandaigua, N.Y., for three years, working to make a positive impact on the community’s youth.
Deb Holland, director of the Ontario County Youth Court, explains that youth courts exist as an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system for youths that have committed minor offenses. The peer-driven program runs on positive peer pressure, which encourages offenders to take responsibility for their actions.
“It’s based on restorative justice principles and the mission is to keep kids out of that traditional justice system,” explains Holland. “Once their case is heard in youth court and they’ve successfully completed the sentence, then they can move forward with a clean slate.”
The Ontario County Youth Court functions through the volunteer efforts of local community members. High school students from across the county devote their time to becoming trained to serve as attorneys, judges and jurors within the youth court system, and adult volunteers help to train them.
“It’s an incredible civic engagement opportunity for our youth volunteers and they have a genuine impact on juvenile crime. They are real decision makers,” says Holland.
The impact of the peer justice system has seemed to be very successful in Ontario County. As Holland explains, “Eighty-three percent of the kids that come through youth court do not see the criminal justice system again.”
Many of these offenders even return to the youth court as volunteers.
“The program was so influential in their lives that they now want to give back,” said Tills, who was a psychology major at William Smith.
Holland speaks highly of all the HWS interns she has worked with, saying, “I’ve never had interns as wonderful as the ones from HWS.”
According to Tills, she received practical, hands-on experience at the youth court. “Having this internship completely shaped what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she said.
Holland hopes to continue the strong relationship between the youth court and HWS students, and eventually create an innovative school-based court system for the Geneva school district that incorporates mentorship between Geneva Middle School, Geneva High School, and HWS students.
As a student, Tills minored in cognition, logic and language. She was active on campus as president of One-on-One Friendship, a student club that bridges the gap between American university students and Indonesian university students.
Tills is currently pursuing her Masters in Forensic Psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.