NEWS HEADLINES

Teen court has new name, new focus

By Erika Pedroza | Published Wednesday, May 24, 2014

A group of “trying” teens is looking to expand its program in more way than one.

Wise Area Teen Court and helpers (WATCh), formerly Wise County Teen Court, is a volunteer program in which juvenile offenders are represented by and tried before a jury of their peers.

Jury of Peers

JURY OF PEERS- Members of the newly-dubbed Wise Area Teen Court and helpers (WATCh) Kristel Wright, Aaron Renaud, Stacie Raymond, Kylie Raymond, Emily Lee and MaKayla Raymond are excited about the changes to their program. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Similar to the defensive driving option for traffic tickets, teen court is an alternative to a fine, and sentences are given in community service hours by a jury of peers.

“It’s a chance to remediate an ‘unwise’ decision and give back to our community at the same time,” coordinator Shelly Renaud said. “They must serve community service with a non-profit agency, helping others who are less fortunate than themselves, or participate in community events.”

With the name change, members hope to recruit teens from the surrounding area – not just Wise County. Organizers hope the geographic expansion lends to growth in the pool of judges they see and from whom they learn.

“We have a course packet that teaches the general motions,” veteran member Aaron Renaud said. “We’d like to see it expand past that and come up with an unusual line of questioning from judges and different opening speeches. It’s not just about the geographical changes, it’s about expanding the entire program.”

Members of the group meet once a month to hear 2 to 4 cases, ranging from speeding and curfew to MIP and MIC to fights and truancy.

“They’ve already pled guilty,” Shelly said. “This is just the sentencing phase.”

Consequences include community service hours at various non-profits. By revamping the program, organizers hope to also begin offering needed counseling.

The biggest growth the program would like to see is in membership, which currently totals around 15.

For its biggest drive before its busiest time of year, WATCh is hosting a large group training Saturday, May 31, at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.

“Everyone is out of school and has more time to get in trouble,” member MaKayla Raymond said.

Tina Heine, who runs a successful program with Georgetown Teen Court, will lead the training.

“They’re going to get that training, and they’re not going to have to be afraid of what’s to come or if they’re qualified or if they’re capable because we will train them,” Shelly said. “It’s a great program. The kids get so many tangible and intangible benefits.

“We are excited for the changes.”

For info on WATCh, visit www.wiseareateencourt.org.

TEEN COURT TRAINING

Any area teen age 12-18 interested in learning more about the program is invited to a training Saturday, May 31, at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office. Registration is 10:30 to 11 a.m., and the training is 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information, call Shelly Renaud at 940-393-5923

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