Blount County Youth Court making connections and offering a second chance

Sept. 7, 2016: The Blount County Youth Court program puts non-violent juvenile offenders in front of a jury of their peers - other high school age students.

Inside the Blount County Courthouse young people are getting a fresh start.

The Youth Court program is looking for a new set of high school age students to serve as jurors. They'll be trained and given the task of helping a non-violent first time offender to make good on their mistakes and put them on the right path.

“The aim is to lift a child up, not push him back down,” explained Knoxville attorney and Tennessee Youth Court Association President Lynn Peterson.

Across the state, the number of teens who get in trouble with the law after going through this program is four percent. In Blount County it's even less.

“It is less than one half of one percent,” said Peterson.

Judge Kenlyn Foster explains part of the program's success is due to punishments aimed at making young people accountable.

"Oftentimes the consequences the Youth Court gives these juvenile respondents are more severe than what they would get coming before me in court,” Foster said.

One example is a young person in trouble for a speeding citation.

"Going 25 mph over, they had them write their own obituary I believe,” said Youth Services Officer Michael Eldridge.

The program has seen more than 300 cases and the number of repeat offenders is in the single digits.

"They are willing to say, 'I know I did wrong, I want to do better. Help me, help me as my peers, help me do better,'” Foster said.

Organizers said that's because the young people on both sides of the law are working together.

"We've had a handful of offenders apply to be jurors which is exactly what we want,” Peterson said.

(© 2016 WBIR)


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