Teen Court serves as an effective punishment system

Emma Clark, Reporter

Teen Court is a punishment system for adolescents on diversion. According to Justice and Law teacher Lou Harrison, Diversion Officer Leonard Matthias, and senior Kalynn Ripley, Teen Court has been an effective consequence system.

Ripley was introduced to Teen Court within the first few weeks of Justice and Law class with Harrison.

“One: it was a good experience because I want to go into criminal justice in the future, and two: it was a good way to get out of taking the final,” Ripley said.

In Harrison’s Justice and Law class, being a juror for Teen Court serves as a replacement for the final.
Ripley said having people on the same level as you, but them having the upper hand is a wake up call. This is why she believes this is an effective consequence system.

“When you see people on the stand and they know that their peers are down there being the jury I think it’s harder because we’re the ones giving the consequences,” Ripley said, “They learn better from that because it’s like these people my age know that I shouldn’t be doing that kind of stuff. It’s not just coming from an adult saying, ‘you are so bad, you’re terrible, you shouldn’t be doing that kind of stuff’.”

Harrison said he feels the same way, but has more than opinion to back his beliefs.

“Statistically kids respond better to the student jurors because it’s their peers punishing them rather than an adult,” Harrison said.

The most common offense that lands people on the stand or in the jury is shoplifting. Other offenses are minor in possession, trespassing, curfew violation, and assault.

“Usually the assault cases are for fights and things of that nature,” Harrison said.

Typical sentences for people on trial vary. The consequences include community service, becoming a Teen Court juror, classes like Alcoholics Anonymous, getting a job, joining a club, or getting their grades up. Drug abuse classes and AA is mandatory for anyone being punished for an MIP.

“The kid has three months to complete their consequence,” Harrison said.

This program is more than just a punishment system. It’s an opportunity for adolescents to volunteer in their community. Students can volunteer to be a part of the jury and get the experience of being in a courtroom.

To become certified to be apart of the jury you have to go through a training course. Matthias goes into Harrison’s classes and talks to the students, which qualifies as training for them.

“Leonard was just here in August training because I have him come talk to students in my Justice and Law class,” Harrison said.

For people on diversion, Matthias said that the relationship between an officer and and teen is comparable to a teacher-student relationship.Matthias said he also tries to encourage the teens and remind them that it is a learning process rather than degrading or punishment.

“With juveniles it’s more of a rehabilitation process rather than a punishment, so you definitely want to have that teaching relationship so they’re more open to your suggestions and feedback,” Matthias said.