KETCHIKAN, Alaska — Ketchikan Youth Court's induction ceremony for 10 graduates recently included a unique bonus: the admission of the organization's new director, Glenn Brown, to the Alaska Bar.
Brown said that Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens, who teaches most of the member classes, came up with the idea to swear him in as an Alaska Bar member with the Youth Court inductees, when his notice of admission came only a month prior to the Dec. 14 ceremony.
"It was just really great," Youth Court board president Pat Chapman said.
Students attend class once per week, for nine weeks, to prepare for graduation, active service in the Youth Court judicial system, Chapman said.
Brown moved to Ketchikan from Pennsylvania in August with his wife, Cheryl Collier-Brown. She is a physician, working as an internist at the PeaceHealth Primary Care Clinic. They have five children, two of whom attend school in Ketchikan — one son a senior at Ketchikan High School, and another who is a sixth-grader at the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences.
Brown began the process of admission to the Alaska bar in July. He said he was impressed with how thorough the process was, which included a four-month background investigation and a lengthy application. He left his Pennsylvania private practice of 16 years when they moved, and he said he is enjoying working with the Youth Court and having a more relaxed lifestyle.
When asked how he and his wife were faring with the stormy weather, he said, "We knew what we bargained for," and added that they are really enjoying Ketchikan.
Ketchikan Youth Court lost its previous director, Margaret Custer, earlier this year. Gretchen Klein, who was key to founding Youth Court in about 2000, according to Chapman, stepped in as interim director until Brown arrived. He said Klein continues to work part-time as his assistant.
Chapman said youth ages 11 to 18 learn valuable skills as members of the organization, like leadership, teamwork, professionalism, and most importantly, how to listen and empathize with a client who is being judged by the Youth Court system.
"I think it gives the youth a chance to see why there are extenuating circumstances ... what can we do as a community to change that type of lifestyle," she said.
When asked whether there was truth to the rumor that youth court sentences can be tougher than traditional court sentences, Chapman said they are not. Most importantly, convictions do not go on the youth's record, she said, sentences aren't as expensive, and the clients are not put on probation.
Youth Court uses "restorative justice," which means the perpetrator of a crime receives a sentence that aims to teach empathy for the victim, if one was involved, through community service and reparations.
Chapman said that Ketchikan Youth Court has the lowest recidivism rate in Alaska, at about 10 percent.
"I think we do a good job," she said.
Brown described Youth Court members as a "special group of youth," who are taught to respect people's private information, and that they are doing work that really matters.
"They should feel proud of themselves, and of what they're doing," he said.
The youth justice programs in Pennsylvania, Brown said, involved having young perpetrators standing in front of the town elders being scolded, then punished, with no restoration component.
Brown said that sometimes young offenders have never thought of there being a person on the other end of their actions who might suffer from their actions. He described one boy who had scribbled graffiti on someone's garage wall. He was sentenced to cleaning the graffiti and community service.
Chapman said that the restorative process can teach "there's more than just me involved in this world."
In some cases, Brown said, the client apologizes to the victim while going through the restorative process, and in one case, the client later became a Youth Court member.
Brown said he is looking forward to expanding the Youth Court program. He plans to add a second class this school year, which will start in the spring. Youth Court handles about 100 cases annually, and he said he's hoping he can increase that number by about 50 percent.
He also wants to track clients more accurately to avoid having clients repeat the Youth Court experience multiple times. He said the program should run as a first-offender diversionary program — a "one-time get-out-of-jail-free card."
Chapman said the organization plans to increase parent involvement under the new director, which hadn't been encouraged previously.
Brown sees his toughest challenge as fundraising, though he said he's looking forward to the annual blueberry roll the organization has always relied on at the Blueberry Festival.
His favorite part of being involved with Youth Court, he said, is the teaching aspect. He said that before arriving in Ketchikan, he was an adjunct professor and a Little League umpire. He looks forward to improving the scheduling of the groups that work on court days, and creating the most effective timeline for each role that the members play, such as prosecutor, bailiff and third judge.
Brown said he and his family are making "full use of living here," attending Monthly Grind events, hiking, and planning to buy a boat.
Information from: Ketchikan Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com