During a recent United Youth Courts of Alaska meeting in Homer, members elected a Ketchikan teenager as the new youth president for the statewide organization.
Trevor Shaw wasn’t sure about joining the local youth court, but his mother and grandmother thought it was a good idea.
“They decided that’s what I should do,” he said during an interview a few days after the conference. “I got involved and loved it ever since. I want to go get a degree in criminology and after that, I’d like to attend law school. It’s been a great experience. It’s provided me with a passion, one that’s grown quite a bit. I just love it. I love being able to help people.”
The 17-year-old Shaw signed up two years ago, and since then has become president of the Ketchikan Youth Court and a paid staff member of his home-town office. Now, he’ll also take the statewide leadership seat that previously was held by yet another Ketchikan teenager.
“That was Austin Otos, and this is the first time that any youth court in the state has held the position two years in a row,” Shaw said.
The state youth court board has 24 members, half adults and half youths. Youth members are elected at the annual conference, and the youth president — that’s Shaw — serves with the adult president as co-executive director. Together, they run meetings and take care of administrative functions for the next year.
Youth Court is a nationwide program that aims to take first-time youthful offenders out of the regular criminal justice system.
“Kids charged with minor consuming, a misdemeanor or an infraction, they will get referred to us, they will go through our process, which starts with an intake interview and goes all the way right up to sentence completion,” Shaw explained. “And all the attorneys and judges involved are youth members. What happens is, after they complete our program, the citation, the charge will get dismissed off their record.”
There are about 30 members of the Ketchikan Youth Court Bar Association. They go through about nine weeks of training, and must pass a test before serving as attorneys, judges and bailiffs.
Sentencing takes place in the organization’s own court, which meets most Monday afternoons. If found guilty, a participant usually is sentenced to community work service. Shaw said the program is great for young first-time offenders, and he likens it to a get-out-of-jail-free card.
“It’s a second chance,” he said. “I think it’s good that kids can get that. Kids will be kids, and we make mistakes. If they can get a chance to learn from their mistakes and not make those mistakes again, I’m proud to be part of that process.”
Shaw says he’s excited to get involved on the state level. He says it’s particularly satisfying that a Ketchikan Youth Court member has been chosen as president two years in a row.
Shaw will serve until the next annual spring meeting, which will take place in Ketchikan.