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Keeping the wheels of justice turning with teens

Published: Dec. 28, 2021 at 10:42 PM CST
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RHINELANDER, Wis. (WSAW) - The Oneida County Teen Court is in need of more panelists. It’s a shortage that’s making it difficult to keep up with the increase in the load of cases.

“Teens are always wired to care more about what their peers think than adults,” Positive Youth Development Educator at UW-Extension of Oneida County Sharon Krause said.

Oneida County Teen Court is a vital step in helping teenage offenders learn from their mistakes.

“Our numbers are showing over 80 percent of kids who go through the teen court process successfully complete it,” Krause said.

Teen Court is where youth offenders go after committing a minor offense. They appear in front of a group of three teen panelists who interview them and assign sanctions. This way, offenders avoid a fine or a permanent record.

“With a lot of legal stuff, it seems the intent a lot of the time is to punish rather than to rehabilitate but then with minors you kind of gotta go about it differently,” Rural Virtual Academy Sophomore and Teen Panelist Ella Bostwick said.

However, the Teen Court program is beginning to feel a pinch in its number of high school panelists. Normally, they have about 25 panelists. Now they’re down to about a dozen. Krause said the pandemic caused things to move to a mostly virtual format.

“Some just sort of lost interest because it’s not as interesting to do it over Zoom as it is in person and it can be really difficult to do it over Zoom,” Krause said.

Krause said the work the volunteer teen panelists do brings a positive impact on the community. They learn about the justice system, leadership, and communication skills, all while helping out their peers.

“I’ve learned how to see things from other people’s perspectives more. I do try to just make sure that they understand… why what they did was wrong so that they’re not going to do it again,” Bostwick said.

Any students between ninth and 12th grade living in Oneida County can apply to become panelists. Follow this link to learn more and sign up.

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