Youth Court is a peer tried court serving the youth of Eastern Jackson County since 1989. Youth Court is a youth diversion program operating under the jurisdiction of Jackson County Family Court. Youth Court accepts at-risk juveniles ages 6 through 17.
Every defendant is assigned a youth attorney for their defense. Defendants may choose to plead either guilty or not guilty. If a guilty plea is entered, the defendant will be ordered by the teen judge, to complete a specific number of community service hours and to complete an educational program.
If a “not guilty” plea is entered, the defendant will continue to a trial. The courtroom process is monitored by adults at all times.
Youth Court’s primary funding is received from the Jackson County COMBAT (Community Backed Anti-Drug Tax) program. Additional funding for the operation of the Youth Court is received from those involved: Blue Springs School District Public Safety Department, Buckner, Grain Valley, Greenwood, Oak Grove, Sugar Creek, and Jackson County’s Sheriff Office. Without this funding and the support of the Jackson County Legislature, the program could not operate.
Welcome and introductions for the November 25th Youth Court Attorney Graduation were provided by Dr. Brad Welle who serves as the Deputy Superintendent of Student and Community Services for the Grain Valley School District. Welle made a point to celebrate the cooperation between the Eastern Jackson County Youth Court and Independence Youth Courts.
Welle also serves as the Vice Chair of the Eastern Jackson County Youth Court Executive Board. Time was taken by Welle to state the importance of what is provided through the volunteer efforts of youth court attorneys who complete training and pass their test to get to the point of graduation.
Congratulatory remarks at this year’s attorney graduation were provided by students Madison Montgomery and Emilio Ayala-Youngblood. Montgomery is a senior at Grain Valley High School and is completing her fifth year of being a youth court attorney. Montgomery’s credits her Mom and her 8th grade social studies teacher for encouraging her to become part of youth court.
“My experience started with me filling out an application with a few of my friends and attending introductory meetings. Then I got experience as being a defense attorney for many people and enjoyed the experience enough to stick with it. Now, I’m here and judging as a senior for Eastern Jackson County Youth Court,” Montgomery said.
“I like the fact that I’m supporting people and possibly helping to change someone’s life for the better. My Mom is a sergeant with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and my Dad is a major for the Sheriff’s Department as well. Their influence as well as having friends in this program prompted me to try this and keep going.”
Montgomery commented during her congratulatory remarks how much her youth court experience has impacted her personality in helping her discover her voice in getting passed being shy. Both Ayala-Youngblood and Montgomery made a point in their speech to thank their parents and Judge Watkins.
Susan Watkins is the Youth Court Executive Director and has served in that capacity for Eastern Jackson County since September of 1999. Watkins sees several benefits in her role and what youth court provides.
“We deal with at-risk juveniles who get in trouble for some reason and have them come in front of a court of their peers. That seems to really have an impact on the students. And juveniles don’t have a record upon going through youth court as we are a diversion program. This program provides students to do some sort of restitution through community service as well as going through education programs so that they learn something,” Watkins said.
“The Jackson County COMBAT Program assists in many different areas. We fall under the prevention category. They (COMBAT) assist with both violence and drug and alcohol related cases. We do all those types of cases in youth court. Anyone that at the present time is under the age of 17 and has one of those types of offenses that is not considered a felony would have the opportunity to come through youth court.”
Watkins also expanded on how the youth court program helps young people along with the current regular docket of juvenile court cases.
“This is a second chance for young people, and it does benefit the court system in that they have the time to deal with the more serious juvenile offenders and cases. This (youth court) also keeps the offenders in their local communities. So, when they do their court sentence they are coming back to work in their community,” Watkins said.
Among Watkins duties at graduation were swearing in the newest set of attorneys and providing them with graduation certificates.
The 38 students listed below make up the 2019 graduating class of Youth Court attorneys. Included in this year’s graduates are Linda Hoessli and Gavin Yao, who are the first two exchange student graduates of the program.
Eastern Jackson County Youth Court and Independence Youth Court Executive Director Susan Watkins and Grain Valley High School student and youth court judge Madi Montgomery. Photo credit: Valley News staff
Thirty eight students were a part of the 2019 graduating class of youth attorneys for the Eastern Jackson County and Independence Youth Courts.
Photo credit: Valley News staff