The Georgia Council of Court Administrators awarded the 2014 Program of the Year Award to the Athens Peer Court (APC) at their annual conference luncheon in Savannah, Ga. on Feb. 11.

APC–an innovative program developed by UGA Public Service and Outreach and local juvenile justice units–provides a meaningful process for first-time youth offenders to accept responsibility and repair the harm caused by their crime while connecting them to the community. In addition, area high school and middle school students gain leadership and career skills as they learn how to serve as advocates, judges, bailiffs and jurors.

Emily Boness, director of Athens Peer Court and a faculty member at UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, and Mallory Parson, case management clerk with the Athens-Clarke County Juvenile Court, accepted the
award on behalf of APC.

Boness’ participation in a similar court as a youth in Alaska led her to law school at UGA. In 2011, she approached Athens-Clarke County Juvenile Court Judge Robin Shearer about the idea of creating a peer court in Athens. Judge Shearer was enthusiastic and supportive of the idea.

Since then, the program has grown significantly and seen great success. In collaboration with UGA law students, the Fanning Institute now trains youth volunteers to run the court. In 2013, Athens Peer Court had 40 active youth volunteers from four Athens-area high schools and four middle schools, and held hearings for 129 cases, up from 52 in 2012. After only two years, APC has the capacity to serve all first-time youth offenders in Clarke County.

Earlier in 2013, Athens Peer Court received the Liberty Bell Award from the Western Circuit Bar Association and was honored by a visit from Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal.

APC is a collaborative effort of the University of Georgia’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, Street Law at UGA’s School of Law, the Athens-Clarke County Juvenile Court, and the Department of Juvenile Justice, and is funded by the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, through the Federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Program.