Youth Court Helping Kids Get Their Lives Back on Track

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For the past four years, the Chippewa County youth court has been helping teens fix their mistakes without going through the juvenile justice system. The program coordinator says the youth court volunteers have gone through 175 cases, helping hundreds of kids get their lives back on track.

Inside the Chippewa County courthouse, the hallways are dark. The courtroom doors are locked and the judge's bench is empty. But down in the basement, about 20 junior justices are working away.

These high school students from all over Chippewa County are volunteers on the youth court.
Chi-Hi senior Angela Smith has been on the court since it started four years ago- this is her last year before heading off to college.

“It's a really good look on the inside of a really complicated law system and it seemed like a really good way to help people my age,” Smith says.

The youth court provides an alternative to the juvenile court for 10 to 16 year olds who admit they did something wrong, and its up to their peers to figure out how to help them make things right.

“They've been yelled at and their parents have scolded them, but its different to have people their own age telling them, 'This is not ok and you're going to have to do something to fix it,' and I think it’s a big reality check for them to be face-to-face with people their own age,” Smith says.

“Much more effective that grown-ups saying that a lot of times,” says Denise Kervin, the youth court coordinator.

Kervin says the court gives almost every offender community service time- in the past four years, the offenders have put in more than 2,300 hours and Kervin says rather than making the punishment fit the crime, the youth court tries to make it fit the person.

“If somebody's interested in becoming a vet, working with animals, then part of the sanctions might be to send them to work at the animal shelter. We figure that if the community service fits the youth, they're going to benefit and so will the community service site,” Kervin says.

Kervin says the youth court is working, because only 10 percent of the kids who go through it re-offend. In the juvenile court, that number jumps to 30 percent.

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