Teen Court success may be sprouting on O‘ahu

LIHU‘E — In celebration of its success, Hale ‘Opio’s Teen Court program is discussing the possibility of expanding to O‘ahu.

“We’re currently talking with people in the First Circuit Court on O‘ahu about Teen Court,” Hale ‘Opio Executive Director Laverne Bishop said on Friday during a mayoral proclamation declaring September as National Youth Court Month. “They’re looking at the success of the Kaua‘i Teen Court in diverting youth from the juvenile justice system.”

Later this month, a group of judges, prosecutors, probation officers and police will visit Kaua‘i to observe the Teen Court, Bishop said, as well as learn about the processes utilized by the program.

Kaua‘i Teen Court was started by Hale ‘Opio in partnership with the Kaua‘i Police Department in 1997. On Friday, the Kaua‘i program joined the nation in celebrating the Ninth National Youth Court Month and the outstanding achievements of youth court programs throughout the country.

Youth court programs work to nurture a respect for the rule of law, develop positive citizenship attitudes, encourage civic engagement and promote educational success through a diversity of service learning opportunities, strategies and activities for youth, states the National Association of Youth Courts website, a resource for the 1,050 youth courts across the country, and for those programs which do not have a youth court program.

More than 117,000 youth volunteered to hear more than 129,500 juvenile cases, and more than 16,500 adults volunteered to facilitate peer justice and appropriate disposition in youth court programs in 2010, the proclamation states.

“The volunteers we have in the program are just outstanding,” Bishop said. “They come from various athletic practices and get dressed up and spend the evening listening to cases. They’re really great.”

Youth volunteers actively learn the roles and responsibilities of the various parts of the judicial system, acting as law enforcement professionals, prosecuting and defense attorneys, clerks, bailiffs, jurors and even judges, to gain experience and knowledge of the juvenile justice system, the NAYC website states.

Youth courts address offenses that might otherwise be overlooked until the offending behavior escalates, reducing caseloads for the juvenile justice system, the proclamation states.

Youth courts are structured to provide positive alternative sanctions for first-time offenders by providing a peer-driven sentencing mechanism that allows young people to take responsibility, to be held accountable and to make restitution, the NAYC website states. Positive peer pressure is used in youth courts to exert influence over adolescent behavior.

Almost two million hours of community service in youth court programs across the country was performed, acknowledging a fundamental correlation between youth service and lifelong community involvement.

The Kaua‘i Teen Court is headed up by Arleen Kuwamura, manager, and Bishop. Judges include Max Graham, who Bishop said has been with the program for 12 years, Greg Meyers, who used to be a judge on the Big Island, Nancy Budd and Laurel Loo. Deana Shelby and David Klemer are long-time hearing night volunteers, Bishop said.

Volunteer service and related service learning opportunities enable young people to build character and develop and enhance life skills, such as responsibility, decision-making, time management, teamwork, public speaking and leadership, the proclamation states.

It also encourages positive behavior and empowers youth to be active in their communities — traits prospective employers will value.

Visit www.haleopio.org or www.youthcourt.net for more information.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.


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