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By Dan Rudy 

Youth Court program admits two new members


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Magistrate Judge Chris Ellis administers the oath of service for Youth Court to Sean Rooney and Josephine Lewis in Wrangell's trial courtroom on Aug. 14. The program allows first-time juvenile offenders the opportunity to be judged by a court of their peers rather than the criminal justice system, giving participants a taste of legal experience in the process.

Wrangell Youth Court admitted two new members last week after they passed their bar examinations. Judge Chris Ellis swore in Josephine Lewis and Sean Rooney at the Wrangell Public Safety trial courtroom Thursday afternoon.

"Your work here will make a real difference," she said to the new members. "This is real work in the world, with very real consequences."

The Youth Court is a justice diversity program begun in Wrangell in 2001. It is one of 1,050 such programs in the National Association of Youth Courts system. The program uses early diversion techniques and alternative sanctions to give first-time juvenile offenders the opportunity to make good on their experience.

Once they undergo the Youth Court trial and fulfill their punishment – such as community service – the offenders' records are then cleared as if the incident never occurred.

"It's really a good program," said Police Chief Doug McCloskey "The kids put a lot of effort into it, and a lot of results come from it."

He pointed to a decline in juvenile crime in recent years as evidence that the court is serving its intended purpose.

"It's gotten less and less as time goes by," he said.

"It's greatly declined," agreed Dorthea Rooney, the program's director. "We've only had a few cases in the last few years," Rooney said, though she added that the program still has value. Participants in the program get a hands-on introduction to the world of law and order, and provide a service to the community.

Rooney explained that Youth Court's peer-based experience can have a lasting impact on first-time offenders, with a low incidence of recidivism. "You strive to do your best in front of your peers," she said.

The new recruits bring the group back up to five members.

"That's about as many as it takes to do a hearing," said Rooney. She explained that members fill the roles of three judges, the clerk and attorneys. With fuller numbers, participants could act as defense and prosecuting attorneys and the bailiff as well.

"We're hoping to have more this fall," she added. Students interested in joining the group can contact Rooney by phone at 874-3304.


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