If you have read this column over the past five years or so, it is likely that you have come across discussions about the Kauai Teen Court program run by Hale Opio Kauai, Inc. However, some may wonder what the program actually entails, what the process is once an adolescent is referred to the program, and what the potential benefits of the program are over being directly sent to Family Court.
To answer these questions, I interviewed Teen Court Manager Esther Solomon:
What is Kauai Teen Court?
“Teen Court is a juvenile justice diversionary program that permits first-time misdemeanor and status offenders an opportunity to avoid Kauai Family Court.”
Where do your referrals come from?
“About 75 percent of Teen Court referrals originate from Kauai middle and high schools and often involve School Resource Officers who are officers with Kauai Police Department placed in the schools to help maintain safety. These officers prepare Custody and Incident Reports that are referred to Kauai Teen Court. The remaining 25 percent of our referrals originate directly from KPD or the Office of the Prosecutor.”
Who is eligible for Kauai Teen Court?
“Any youth between the ages of ten and seventeen who has committed a first-time misdemeanor or status offense and who accepts responsibility for committing that offense.“
What are the Teen Court requirements?
“To successfully complete Kauai Teen Court, the program participant must accept responsibility for his or her offense, maintain confidentiality for all participants, and complete the individual sanctions meted out by either their peer jury for misdemeanor offenses or by the judge in Chambers for status offenses.”
What are the benefits of going to Teen Court versus Family Court?
“Teen Court gives youth on Kauai the opportunity to stay out of the formal juvenile justice system, take responsibility for their behavior, give back to their community, and develop important skills. Individuals who complete the Teen Court program for their first offense are not required to go to Family Court. Instead, teens are educated on the justice system and volunteers guide them through courtroom procedure.
Many student participants and their families have never been exposed to a courtroom atmosphere, which is why Teen Court strongly believes education on the subject is critical. Youth and their family often arrive frightened at their Intake Interview, worrying that the child might be sent off island as punishment for the offense. The family is relieved to be offered a program that avoids the frightening procedure, repercussions and sanctions of a traditional judicial setting.
Local Kauai attorneys volunteer to oversee the hearings, but it is the youth’s peers who decide the particular sentence. Sentences always include service as a juror for the next scheduled sentencing hearing. In addition, sentences may include community service, written apology letters or essays, substance abuse assessments, and depending on the offense, classes in conflict resolution, anger management, and victim awareness.
The Teen Court program also offers a unique opportunity to learn about government, law and courtroom practice, as the youth completes a jury training course, as well as education on the Constitution, the branches of government, due process, and the important roles and responsibilities of people in a courtroom setting (i.e. bailiff, defendant, respondent, prosecutor, clerk, etc.). By participating in other participants’ cases, youth acquire a number of skills including problem solving, decision-making, collaboration, enhanced communication and respect for the law.
We also help families find counseling if it is required or requested. By giving youth an opportunity to repair the harm to the family and community and themselves after getting detained for an offense, Kauai Teen Court hopes to contribute to the reduction of juvenile crime in the community and help the participants avoid future arrests.
Hale `Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Esther Solomon at email@example.com. For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kauai, please go to www.haleopio.org.