NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – There is a real judge in a real courtroom where a North Little Rock teen is on trial for skipping school.

Inside the courtroom at the North Little Rock Justice Center, high school students serve as the prosecution representing the school and the defense representing the student on trial.

North Little Rock Teen Court is a juvenile diversion program aimed at keeping teens out of the criminal justice system.

District Court Judge Paula Jones brought Teen Court to North Little Rock 15 years ago.

“(It) gives them a chance to admit their guilt and then to be represented by their peers and then punished by their peers,” Jones said. “It’s positive peer pressure.”

The trial runs like the real deal. Each side makes opening statements and then calls witnesses. In this trial, the prosecution starts by calling a school resource officer to testify.

“He tended to either be really late or just miss class in general pretty regularly,” the officer said about the defendant while testifying.

The teen even takes the stand in his own defense before both sides give closing arguments.

His student attorneys are asking the teen jury for him to receive eight hours of community service and serve on two Teen Court juries. The students on the prosecution are arguing for 12 community service hours and one jury term.

“We need options for kids. We want to keep kids out of juvenile courts,” Jones explained. “We want them to figure out, ‘You know what, that was really dumb.’  We want them to figure that out before they get into the juvenile court system.”

Teen Court has proven to work across the country. According to a report by the Urban Institute, only 6%-9% of teens who go through a teen court program will get in trouble again, compared to 42% of non-teen court offenders.

Back in the courtroom, the jury is deliberating behind closed doors. After a few minutes, the volunteer bailiff reveals the teen’s sentence.

The jury decides he should receive 15 hours of community service, serve on one Teen Court jury, and cannot have any tardies or unexcused absences for the rest of the year.

Kids can go to Teen Court for all kinds of misdemeanor charges, like truancy or vaping on campus. Right now, there are eight teen court programs in Arkansas.

The Pulaski County Special School District is in year two of its program, and Jones has helped other districts implement their own Teen Court programs.

For more details on the program, visit NLRTeenCourt.com.