Kodiak Teen Court is recruiting youth to join its program, which offers a restorative justice process for teens who have committed relatively minor offenses.
Andrew Ott, a legal advisor for Teen Court, Veronica Johnson, a youth attorney, and Johnson’s mother and Teen Court board member Tania Silva-Johnson came on Talk of the Rock on Tuesday to discuss the program.
The most common offenses include underage possession or consumption of alcohol, using marijuana and vaping.
Ott says having peers fill the roles of prosecutors, defenders and judges usually makes the teen defendant more receptive to reforming. In fact, he says, Kodiak Teen Court sees just a 4 percent recidivism rate, meaning only 4 percent of the offenders end up back in front of the youth court.
“The cool thing about it from my perspective is that it’s not an adult judge coming in and sentencing the youth,” Ott said. “It’s the youth, members of the teen courtroom that are actually doing it, and it seems to be working better. The message is getting across.”
Johnson added that the restorative justice model helps offending teens to move forward, keeping them accountable with constructive sentences like community service, essays or apology letters. “We have gotten more creative with some. I remember we did a sentencing where they had to go down after Crab Fest and clean up all the trash. Or we’ll send them to beach and have them do beach cleanup. Like if they were caught at a bonfire drinking or something, we’ll have them clean up that beach.”
Johnson says she got into Teen Court because it was a good way to practice public speaking, and now law seems like a possible future career.
“I didn’t really know much about it, but they told me that it would help with public speaking and I was pretty shy,” she said. “So I joined and ended up learning a lot about the law and what my own rights are. I ended up really liking doing defense as an attorney and being able to help the client instead of punishing them, and being able to see that progress is really neat.”
Most of Teen Court, including the majority of the program’s board members are youth, with adult advisers like Ott on board to give guidance. Adults can get involved by volunteering on the board, and he says he’s looking for another adult lawyer to participate as well.
As for youth participants, new attorneys can be anywhere from 8th grade through high school-age. They have to go through a 10-week class and pass a Teen Court bar exam. For more information, you can visit kodiakteencourt.org.
Listen to the full interview here.