By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — Twelve teens were sworn in as Kosciusko County Teen Court members during a ceremony on Monday, Aug. 23.
Teen Court is a restorative justice program for juveniles involved in first-time offenses. It acts as an alternative for teens who have committed specific types of non-violent misdemeanors. The program allows for the juveniles to take responsibility for their actions while working to restore balance to familial and peer relationships.
Through Teen Court, student volunteers act in several roles such as prosecutors, defense attorneys, and peer jury members. The volunteers learn about the judicial process while developing new perspectives and communication skills.
The students were sworn in at the ceremony by Kosciusko Superior Court One Judge Karin McGrath.
“Even in the adult system, we talk about reformation,” said Judge McGrath. “To an even greater level, here we can reach kids while they’re still young enough and not saddled with any adjudication. We get them at the front end of the bad behavior and it changes them. It’s a really positive activity and I’m thrilled that all of you are here.”
Teen Court members include: Kennedi Adkins, Jasmine Bautista, Elle Brouwer, Regan Brouwer, Kate Deloe, Brianna Feldman, Natasha Lea, Harrison Phipps, Abigail Rahn, Keely Roe, Elena Sommers, and Megan White.
Defense Attorney Brian Pyle will serve as the Teen Court judge, acting as a coach for the Teen Court members and assisting them with court procedures. Local attorneys Dana Leon and Travis Neff have also volunteered as coaches in the past and will continue to help with this year’s program as well.
During the ceremony, Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brad Voelz encouraged the volunteers while emphasizing the importance of restorative justice within the Teen Court system.
“You’ll learn a lot about justice and about other kids in our community,” said Voelz. “Most importantly, you’ll learn a lot about yourselves.”
Teen Court Director Betsey Vastbinder also recognized Co-Director Lana Horoho for helping run the Teen Court throughout her maternity leave and during a period of grant funding loss.
“There was a good three months of the program only surviving because Lana was volunteering her time to come in and make sure that this program existed in our community for teens who really need it,” said Vastbinder.
Horoho thanked Cheryl Hastings for her assistance and support while also showing appreciation for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) program helping fund Teen Court.
“The hope is to divert these kids coming to us with police reports from the justice system and to actually have an impact on them so they’re not faced with a situation again where they won’t make a negative choice,” said Horoho. “We think it’s a wonderful opportunity for not only the kids that are in trouble to come in and wipe their slate clean, but it’s also a really great chance for our teen volunteers to step into some leadership roles. We think it’s great for all the kids involved.”