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Youth Court, First In-Person Session Since COVID

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The Hernando County Youth Court had its first in-person court sessions this past week since March 2020, when it was transferred to Zoom due to COVID-19.

The youth court is a diversionary program designed to help kids with first-time misdemeanors avoid having a permanent record, said Shana Felten, youth court coordinator. The kids who participate in youth court are volunteers and former citation holders. They act as prosecuting and defense attorneys, bailiffs, clerks, and jury members.

The sheriff’s office, the Department of Juvenile Justice, and the State Attorney’s Office refer kids to youth court, where they are given the opportunity to have their cases heard by a jury of their peers. Youth Court hears cases involving misdemeanors such as shoplifting, possession of alcohol, criminal mischief, and other misdemeanors.

The program is held at the Hernando County Courthouse, where a local judge or attorney presides over the hearings, said Felten. The kids involved in youth court are ages 10-17. Youth who fill the role of attorney are from the junior law program, which kids can sign up for. The class takes place in person or online.

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“It is a great program for those that are volunteering for Bright Futures scholarship,” said Felten. “And then it is also a great program for those that have received a citation so they can learn what their mistake was and to learn from it. And then most of those stay with us and they continue to be a volunteer once they finish our program even.”

The youth court meets on Zoom every Monday at 5 p.m., but it will also offer in-person court sessions on the school district’s half days.

On June 13, the youth court had its first in-person court session since March 2020 because of COVID-19.
After the pandemic, the youth court continued to be held on Zoom because of public school’s late dismissal times, inconsistent bus schedules, and transportation issues, as many of the parents work multiple jobs, said Felten.

“We have decided to keep it on Zoom on Mondays for those that need the Monday night Zoom, and then once school starts, we are going to do the in-person on the half days that the school board has,” said Felten.

The youth court is also partnered with Brooksville Mainstreet and Healthy Families Pasco-Hernando. When events occur in Brooksville, volunteers from the youth court help set up or tear down booths and participate in trash clean-up alongside Brooksville Mainstreet and Healthy Families Pasco-Hernando. The kids get credit for their work through community service hours toward their sentence or Bright Futures scholarship.

“I feel that youth court impacts the kids because it helps them because they learn from our program,” said Felten. “And they learn about other misdemeanors that could get them into trouble and then they learn what not to do so they don’t continue on the behaviors and end up with a permanent charge in juvenile court.”

Hanna Maglio
Hanna Maglio
Hanna Maglio is a writer and photographer at the Hernando Sun. She is currently studying journalism at the University of Florida.
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