AlaskaYouth Court judges, attorneys, and bailiffs from 16 courts around the state gathered in Kenai last week for the United Youth Courts of Alaska (UYCA) annual convention. According to LeAnn Opal, Program Coordinator for UYCA, this is the first time the convention has been held on the Kenai Peninsula.
"The mission of the UYCA is to work in partnership with Alaskan communities and the formal juvenile justice system to develop and sustain innovative youth courts," said Opal during a breakout session at last weeks convention. Chief Justice Dana Fabe of the Alaska Supreme Court was on hand during the seminar to give advice to the Youth Court members. "Many other youth courts around the nation use youths as attorneys but adults as judges," said Justice Fabe. In Alaska the youth are judges as well, "It's a very promising concept to have youthful offenders sentenced by their peers, they take the sentence and their peers' remarks very seriously."
Tamanika Haynes, of Kenai, was a former attorney and judge with the Kenai Peninsula Youth court prior to graduating from KCHS. Haynes is now a freshman at Arizona State University majoring in public relations and returned home to be the convention's keynote speaker. "It was one of the best parts of my high school education. It's a big effort to take the classes and pass the bar, but it's very worthwhile to know that you can make a difference. Youth court teaches competency and leadership skills and problem solving that's hard to find in other classes. I highly recommend it to kids today, it's a great experience," said Haynes.
Several offenders who have gone on to work out their sentences from the local youth court, have turned around and become members of the court and are now attorneys and judges. "It's positive peer pressure. Youth volunteers send the message that they don't condone law-breaking behaviors, and the peer sentencing can be very creative," said Ginny Espenshade, Kenai Peninsula Youth Court director.
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