Court Run By Teens, For Teens Launching in Manitowoc Co. - WBAY

Court Run By Teens, For Teens Launching in Manitowoc Co.

Manitowoc County -

Manitowoc County is about to join eight other Northeast Wisconsin communities in launching a court for kids. Currently Forest, Menominee, Marinette, Oconto, Sheboygan, Waupaca and Winnebago Counties have Teen Courts. Manitowoc plans to launch the Youth Diversion Court in two months.

Organizers believe Teen Court is just what the entire community needs.

Come January, the city council chambers in Manitowoc City Hall will become the county's newest courtroom, complete with clerk, bailiff, attorneys and a jury.

But there's a twist, they'll all still be in school.

"I think this should be a great opportunity for our first time offenders to have more one on one contact with their peers, and also to have some more appropriate sanctions," says Manitowoc Assistant City Attorney Kathleen McDaniel.

It's called Teen Court.

Twelve to 16 year olds cited for things like first offense underage drinking, marijuana possession, fighting, social media bullying or truancy will end up before a jury of their peers, who decides their sentence.

"When an adult tells them something is wrong or inappropriate behavior, you kind of get the vibe from the kid, yeah, yeah, shut up, you don't understand. But when it's one of your peers saying, hey, that's not a cool thing to do... when you're a teenager, that carries a lot of weight," says McDaniel, who will serve as the adult judge for Teen Court.

Offenders must enter a no contest plea before choosing to participate in teen court, but organizers say other communities with the program have proven it is an effective way to prevent re-offending.

"When they go through the juvenile justice system, they kind of get that mark and label like you're a bad kid, you're not doing well. And on the other side of this, they have an opportunity to be wow, you're really helping some other people in the process, and helping other youth get a second chance," says Christma Hochkammer, Manitowoc Youth Diversion Program Coordinator.

As part of their sentence, teens will be required to serve on three future juries and complete community service.

"What we're looking for is a mentor within the organization and not just putting them somewhere in the back corner to stuff envelopes, but somebody that's really going to connect with them," says Hochkammer.

Michael Huck will be one of those mentors.

"We see this is a major opportunity to re-engage a group that's often cited as failing for a lack of community identification," says Huck, CEO of Lakeshore Community Action Program.

Teen Court is expected to hear anywhere from five to 20 cases a month in Manitowoc and Two Rivers beginning in 2014.

"If we can get them back on the right path, hopefully that will get them to say, hey, there is something with my life besides constantly going out and getting into trouble," adds McDaniel.

To learn more about Wisconsin's other Youth Diversion Programs, click here.

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