Recent History – 1999
Dec. 28, 1999
Five native youth are going to help their peers who got into trouble with the law to go through the court system faster under a unique pilot project.
Right now, it often takes youth three court appointments before their case is going anywhere, says Nancy Prince, Reconnect Youth Services worker. That, she says, is not only wasting court money, but also adds frustration to the youth, the lawyers and the judge.
“The youth, therefore, seem to get harder sentences,” Prince says.
Now, five youth have been trained to understand the criminal justice system and help their peers meet appointments, get in touch with legal aid, lawyers, probation officers and encourage them to stay on the right path.
“I don’t think it’s a job adults can do,” Prince says. “This is youth talking to each other.”
Prince says she was able to find some funding through Legal Services Society, Native Programs, which helped in the training and provide wages for about three hours of work a week for each court assistant worker.
Last week, Mandy Strong, Ramona House, Alvina Supernant, Candace Bellam and Michael Meck received their certificates. The youth are five of a class of nine that started the training in November.
“We’re going to help the youth that have trouble with the law,” says House. “We understand how the court system works and help them understand the terminology and help them understand the importance of being on time.”
Being on time was the single biggest factor of four youth dropping out of the program, Prince says. Keeping appointments is half the battle in facing the court system, and therefore the students were told that being late for a class means automatic expulsion from the course.
The youth learned the ins and outs of the court system, along with why it’s important for troubled youth to play ‘the game’ the proper way, like dressing up in clean clothes and addressing people respectfully.
Strong says, as court assistant worker, she’ll try to make her clients understand these things are important.
The five-week course also made the students better listeners, says Supernant. That way, when they talk to clients, they can quickly cut through the chit-chat and get into the important things, “like being on time!”
Prince says she hopes new funding will be found when the present budget is depleted, around March next year. It all depends on how well the program works.
“We’re being watched really closely because there are not a lot of youth-run programs like this,” she says.
“But even if we help one youth stay out of jail, we’ve saved the government a lot of money.”
Prince says the program is also good for the self-esteem of the court assistance workers, who can use the work for work experience credits at school.
“We want to show these youth they are a vital part of this community,” she says.