By Sarah Waldrop
Holt Journal staff writer
The defendant stands in an Ingham County courtroom awaiting trial. The judge makes opening statements as the jurors take their seats. High school students represent members of the jury and listen to the case. The defendant is a minor in the Lansing Teen Court program, an alternative juvenile justice diversion program.
In a Delhi Charter Township meeting, rumors of Holt becoming educational partners with Lansing Teen Court provided in part through Cooley Law School flew. If this process were to begin, a class arranged at the high school would be elected to participate.
The approval of Teen Court would be determined by the program and the willingness of the school to participate, Sheriff’s deputy Mary Hull said. The role of Teen Court is to reduce suspensions and keep youths out of the court system through seeking alternative justice.
“I would hope that we can do something in the near future with the program,” Hull said.
Students of Holt Public Schools would actively be involved in participating as peer jurors in accountability hearings, program director Mike Botke said of the potential relationship. Teen Court is in seven schools in the Ingham County area and has been active for 13 years.
The program allows peer jurors actively sanction first-time juvenile offenders while also giving students the opportunity to learn about the justice system first hand. Teen Court educates students about the consequences of breaking the law and tried to help them become assets to the community, Botke said.
Tim Whelan, a teacher at Dansville High School, described the school’s partnership with the program as, “the most powerful field trip experience for students.” The program has proved to be beneficial all around, Whelan said, as Teen Court serves approximately 500 students in the county.
The program provides an environment to increase teaching and learning abilities for the educational system. Exposing students to different people and situations they may not have yet experienced, said Judge Bill Fleener, who volunteers with the Lansing Teen Court program.