SOUTHPORT, N.C. – Twenty years ago, Brunswick County had a problem with too many young people entering the juvenile justice system for demonstrating poor judgement and having that mistake follow them forever. Thanks to Brunswick County Teen Court, first time offenders are given a second chance at a clean slate.
Communities In Schools of Brunswick County (CIS) along with former Rep. David Redwine, Rep. Dewey Hill, and Sen. R.C. Soles were instrumental in providing funding for and implementing this program 20 years ago. Brunswick County Teen Court started in 1999 and is a partnership program between CIS and the Brunswick County District Attorney’s Office, made possible through financial support provided by the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council and Brunswick County. It gives young people an opportunity at having a second chance. Teen Court provides an alternative system of justice for first time juvenile misdemeanor offenders ages 6-17.
Primarily serving students at Brunswick County’s five high schools, Teen Court allows offenders to accept responsibility for their offense, have their case heard by a jury of their peers and complete a constructive sentence so they can avoid a juvenile court record. Teen Court does not determine guilt or innocence, rather it recommends a constructive sentence for the juvenile defendant that includes restitution, community service, and counseling.
Teen Court gives first time offenders a “second chance” to “get things right” and learn from their mistakes. It provides the student volunteers with an opportunity to practice their public speaking and presentation skills while learning more about the legal system. Cases are heard one evening each month at the Brunswick County Courthouse. The school system and the justice system have joined forces in the program and it is working.
Student volunteers are recruited from all five Brunswick County high schools and trained by adult volunteers with legal backgrounds to fulfill the roles of attorneys, jurors, clerks and bailiffs during case hearings. Student volunteers get a hands-on educational experience that helps them better understand our system of justice. A significant number of Teen Court student volunteers have gone on to pursue law degrees and positions in the legal field upon high school graduation as a result of their Teen Court experience.
Juvenile offenders participating in this diversion program save the county at least $2,000 per case. During the 2018-2019 school year, 81 defendants were served, and student volunteers donated more than 465 hours of their time to participate in the program. Offenders who complete their sentencing requirements in the designated timeframe avoid a permanent juvenile record.
Brunswick County District Attorney Jon David credits Teen Court with turning a problem into a passion for the adult and student volunteers, as well as volunteer lawyers and judges who preside over the cases. David states that Judge Napoleon Barefoot originally chaired the task force working with CIS that started the program in Brunswick County. Volunteers John Kelso, Pete Erbe, Fred Amman, and Ed Kay were also instrumental in the early years of getting Teen Court up and operational. Kelso and Erbe continue to volunteer regularly with Teen Court working with student volunteers to teach and mentor them in learning about the law, legal proceedings, and courtroom etiquette. Erbe also volunteers as a student mentor in Leland Middle School and is involved in their Peer Court program. Community organizations Southport-Oak Island Kiwanis Club, Southport Rotary, and Leland Kiwanis Club are also active in volunteering regularly with Teen Court in mentoring and teaching youth.
Members of the Southport-Oak Island Kiwanis Club serve as jury mentors and as defense counsel advisors. The civic club got involved in early 2000 after then president, Pete Erbe, went to a mock trial. “I was so impressed I suggested Kiwanis become a part of it,” said Erbe. “I was impressed how the middle and high school students handled themselves.” The Kiwanis motto is, ‘Serving the children of the world.’ Erbe went on to say, “Teen Court is exactly what Kiwanis is all about.”
John Kelso has been an integral part of Brunswick County Teen Court almost as long as Teen Court has been around. During this 20th Anniversary year for Teen Court, Kelso is celebrating 17 years as a volunteer. He has volunteered every year since 2002, serving as a volunteer in jury deliberations and more recently as a mentor to prosecuting and defense attorneys. When Kelso joined the Southport-Oak Island Kiwanis Club in 2002 he was introduced to Brunswick County Teen Court. He said that many members of the Kiwanis Club are actively involved in various CIS projects. With his law degree and 32 years as a special agent in the FBI, it was a community activity perfect for his background where he could help students participating in the program.
“When I went in to help with jury deliberations the first time, I was amazed at how much attention the students paid to detail and how involved and thorough they were,” he said. “I walked out of there thinking, ‘This is a really good program.’” Kelso, went on to say, “This has evolved into something that means so much to me that I want to do whatever I can to help.”
Doug Young is another retired legal professional helping Teen Court and Peer Court in Brunswick County. Young retired to Brunswick County in 2006 after a successful career as a trial attorney from New York. He was recently awarded the North Carolina Governor’s Volunteer Service Award for his work with CIS and Brunswick County Teen Court. Young’s volunteer efforts were called “the key to success in Brunswick County.”
Because of his extensive legal background, he became involved with CIS and the Peer Court program at Leland Middle School in 2011. His involvement with CIS Peer Court led him to learn about CIS and Brunswick County Teen Court. “I have now been serving as a volunteer Teen Court judge for the past four years and still volunteer at Leland Middle School with CIS Peer Court once a month serving as a judge. I use each of these volunteer opportunities to teach students and learn respect for the law. My legal background makes this a great fit for my skills and allows me the opportunity to help students and teach them about the judicial system,” said Young.
Young went on to say, “I believe that CIS is a great program and fully deserves my commitment as a volunteer to help make it more successful and impact more young people’s lives.” During the 2018-2019 school year CIS Peer Court had only 4.7% of student defendants reoffend within one year after completing sentencing and Brunswick County Teen Court had 6.6% of student defendants reoffend within one year after sentence completion. Peer Court and Teen Court are juvenile court diversion programs for first time misdemeanor offenders in middle school (Peer Court) and high school (Teen Court).
“I am thrilled to be able to change student lives by teaching them about our legal system, keeping them out of the judicial system, and being able to give them a second chance with a clean record. I use my volunteer time with CIS Peer Court and Teen Court to teach students the right ways and teach them a respect for the law. CIS Peer Court and Teen Court is worth every dollar spent to keep students out of the county judicial system,” said Young.
2019 is the 20-year Anniversary of Brunswick County Teen Court! For stories and images of Teen Court and to see how the program has impacted lives visit www.cisbrunswick.org. If you have questions about Teen Court, please contact the Teen Court Director Sam Davis at 910-253-4087 or email@example.com. Visit Brunswick County Teen Court on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates.
About Communities In Schools of Brunswick County:
Communities In Schools of Brunswick County is an accredited affiliate of the national Communities In Schools network, operating programs proven to keep students in school and on the path to graduation. Working closely with schools and partner organizations, Communities In Schools of Brunswick County uses evidence-based programs to serve students and their families. Based directly inside schools throughout the county, Communities In Schools connects students and their families to critical educational and community-based resources working hand-in-hand with schools, communities and families to identify their unique needs and surround students with a caring network of support. Learn more about Communities In Schools of Brunswick County at www.cisbrunswick.org.