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Teen Court Program would allow peers to prosecute, defend, act as jury


The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG — The chairman of the city’s Youth Advisory Committee on Monday outlined a Teen Court program he and supporters say could provide a positive alternative for students starting down a negative path.

Michael Hess, a Parkersburg South High School student and chairman of the committee, said the program would be an option for seventh- through 12th-graders at schools in the city.

Parkersburg Youth Advisory Committee Chairman Michael Hess discusses the Teen Court Program Monday during a committee meeting in Parkersburg City Council chambers.
(Photo by Evan Bevins)

Principals or school resource officers could refer first-time, non-violent offenders charged with misdemeanors or violations of school rules to the court, which would be presided over by an active or retired judge or attorney in good standing with the West Virginia Bar Association. Students would act as the prosecutors, defense attorneys and jury.

“The major thing about these teen court programs is they use positive peer pressure,”Hess said.

Darby Stevens, director of therapy services for Westbrook Health Services Inc., and Jay Powell, youth engagement specialist for Westbrook, will serve as the administrator and deputy administrator of the program.

“It’s an opportunity for kids to … take care of their own business without having to be adjudicated,” Stevens said.

If a teen accepts responsibility for their actions and completes the program, the infraction would not go on their record, Hess said. In addition to the Teen Court hearing itself, students would have to abide by the decision and penalties or other requirements imposed by the peer jury.

“It will stay between the schools and the Teen Court Program,” Hess said.

The program is laid out in state code, and several counties have or have had them. Among the requirements is that each student who goes through the court performs community service and serves as a peer juror at least twice.

Potential orders from the peer jury could include writing a personal apology, paying restitution, participating in drug testing and more. The community service would be done under the guidance of an adult mentor.

Youth participants would receive special training from the West Virginia Teen Court Association and have to sign agreements not to disclose information about the students that come through the program.

“You don’t want to make fun of someone or bully them when they’re trying to get on the right path,” Hess said.

Ken Cook, director of secondary schools for Wood County Schools, and Parkersburg High School Assistant Principal Jeff Kisner attended Monday’s meeting.

“I think it has potential,” Cook said. “The principals are going to have to buy into the program, that’s for sure.”

City Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl, the city’s liaison with the committee, said she could see the program benefiting the school district by cutting down on suspensions and improving the school environment, as well as the Wood County Juvenile Drug Court by diverting students from problems before they end up there.

Juvenile Drug Court team member Donna Spurgeon-Davis agreed.

“We could all work together,” she said.

Hess said more members need appointed to the committee and contact will need to be made with other school administrators. He anticipates the Teen Court Program getting started later this fall.

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