Kids don't always have to be in trouble to get involved in the legal process.
That message rang loud and clear Saturday as 13 area young people went before state Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe to be sworn in as new members of the Kenai Peninsula Youth Court in Kenai.
The Youth Court provides an alternative forum to the traditional judicial system for juvenile offenders. In Youth Court, juveniles are prosecuted, defended and judged, much like the traditional courts, but everything is done by graduate attorneys of the Youth Court program.
Fabe said Youth Court is one of the most positive ways of helping teens on both sides of the law.
"There are so many benefits to the teens who participate and to the youthful offenders. It allows kids who have conducted themselves in an exemplary way to set a good example for their peers and to exert positive peer pressure. Offenders can correct errors in a way that sometimes sets more requirements (than the traditional judicial process). They're much less likely to re-offend if they have judges who are their peers" Fabe said.
Ryan Myers of Soldotna High School and Megan Kohler of Kenai Central High School have been involved with Youth Court for a few years already. They were among the seven court members sworn in as new judges. They said they like the program because it allows them to help their peers in a meaningful way.
"We work with people who commit minor offenses. It's like the real court system," Myers explained. "We also do anger management and peer mediation. It's fun."
Youth Court Director Ginny Espenshade agreed that everyone learns a lot from the program.
"It's great to see the kids' maturation process and confidence grow. They realize they're actually helping their peers," she said. "Another thing is they learn empathy. They learn that nobody is perfect."
Sworn in on Saturday as new Kenai Peninsula Youth Court members were, Thomas Adams, Jeremy Blumenshine, Ashlee Daris, Adam DeMello, Melissa Downs, Katie Ford, Rik Galley, Mercedes Hughes, Amy Hundertmark, Bartas Krasnadamskis, Kimberly Kurzen-doerfer, Ashley Myers and Lorena Whitaker.
Megan Kohler, Ryan Myers, Sarah Stocks, Matt Janz, Breanna Butler, Jenny Miller and Leticia Haynes were sworn in as judges.
Fabe said one of the best things about being involved with the Youth Court is getting to watch the new members mature into seasoned jurists.
"I see kids that I swore in as seventh or eighth graders, and then to hear them speak years later as teens, how they develop public speaking and confidence ... it's impressive."
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