Authored by Ricky Vigil
YS Afterschool Coordinator, Cyprus High School
We all make mistakes–what we do after those mistakes is what makes us who we are. Magna Kearns Youth Court was born out of a desire not only to keep juvenile offenders out of the court system, but to allow them to learn from their mistakes through restorative justice. Established in October 2016 at the request of the Magna Kearns Gang Reduction Program, Magna Kearns Youth Court held their first hearings in February 2016 and is currently preparing to process cases during the 2016-2017 school year. To that end, teen panelists from Cyprus, Kearns and Hunter high schools have been participating in training sessions throughout the summer.
Teens can be referred to Magna Kearns Youth Court by school resource officers or administrators for minor first time offenses–assault, vandalism, speeding, possession and other such offenses are handled by the court. Rather than being referred to juvenile court and tarnishing the offender’s record, youth court offers a restorative justice approach based on three pillars: accountability, community connection and skill building. The offender must admit to the charge, and is issued a disposition contract designed to help them take responsibility for their actions while becoming more involved with their community and performing service that is relevant to their interests and future. Our panelists speak with both the youth and their parents, getting to know each of them in an effort that is not designed to prove guilt and issue punishment, but to move forward through accountability and service. By working in their schools, libraries and at local business such as Karma Bike Shop in Magna, youth build crucial skills and learn that their actions impact their entire community. The referred youth are also required to serve on the youth court panel, putting them on the other side of the table so they can serve as an advocate of kids like them. Upon successful completion of the contract, the referred youth graduates from the program, and their record remains clean. If they do not complete the contract or commit another offense during the course of the contract, however, they are referred back to the referral source.
Magna Kearns Youth Court is still very young, processing just a dozen cases in its first official season. Many of the original panelists have since graduated or otherwise moved on, but for the 2016-17 school year, we have recruited nearly 15 new panelists along with 5 returning students to serve the youth in their communities. Magna Kearns Youth Court took 15 students to Weber State University this July to participate in the Utah Youth Court Association teen conference, where they learned about dispositions and mentoring, among other topics, and they got to live the college experience by staying in the dorm for three nights and making use of the university’s many extracurricular resources. The panelists also participated in a training session last week at Youth Services, where they participated in the on-campus challenge course and were treated to presentations by Moises Prospero of the Regional Gang Reduction Partnership, Youth Services counselor Michael Cox, and Salvador Oregon of the Utah Pride Center. The panelists were given a better idea of why we do what we do in youth court as well as a better understanding of the communities they serve.
Panelists also participated in a mock trial, putting their newly learned mentoring and questioning techniques to the test. By connecting with the people and resources in their community, the panelists were better able to understand how to help the cases brought in front of them. They know they are not there to pass judgement, but rather to help build a bridge. One of the most striking things about the group we have assembled this year is how many big ideas they all have–of course, this experience will be a great piece on their resume and will help open some doors, but they were most interested in finding out what they could do in their community to help kids just like them who have made a mistake.
Through partnerships with Salt Lake County Township Services and Library Services as well as the Magna Kearns Gang Reduction Program, we are excited to be hosting Magna Kearns Youth Court through Youth Services. If you would like to partner with Magna Kearns Youth Court as a disposition option or have any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org