The Dialogue with Lynn Peterson
Describe what Blount County Youth Court does.Cases of non-violent juvenile offenders are referred to the Blount County Youth Court by the Juvenile Court to be heard by a jury of their peers (high school students) who determine the disposition utilizing the principles of restorative justice (accountability, competency development, and community safety). If the youth completes the disposition the charges will be expunged from their record.
How did it get started?The Blount County Youth Court is the legacy project of the Leadership Blount Class of 2013.
What is your background?I have been a practicing litigation attorney for over 30 years. I am a shareholder at Lewis Thomason in Knoxville, Tennessee. Before getting my law degree I was social worker in Memphis, Tennessee.
Who is your mentor?Denise Bentley works as the Tennessee Youth Court coordinator. She helps to establish local youth court programs across the state, and helps with the organization of programs and training of the jurors. Judge Foster has been an advocate of the program from its inception, and Judge Kelly Thomas has helped train our jurors each year.
Describe what Youth Court hears.The Blount County Youth Court hears cases of non-violent, first time juvenile offenders. By statute the Youth Court can hear cases involving many kinds of offenses including drug charges, tobacco, alcohol, truancy, theft, vandalism, and bullying. The young people who participate as jurors are trained and given an opportunity to have a voice in the juvenile justice system.
What impacts the environment you work in?The legislative authority for the establishment of youth Courts in Tennessee was passed in 2000. However the Juvenile Court Judge in each County has to approve the formation of a youth court in their jurisdiction. While the benefits of youth courts in terms of greatly reduced recidivism rates has been proven, the support of the Juvenile Court Judge is critical to the success of the program. Judge Foster has been an advocate of our program from the beginning.
What do you enjoy about Youth Court?I enjoy training and working with the young people who volunteer to be jurors on the youth court. I can see their knowledge of the justice system expand and their self confidence grow as they hear more cases. These juror have on opportunity to help change someone's life in a positive way, and break down the negative stereotype of disconnected teens. I also enjoy seeing that this court has made a real difference in the lives of the young offenders and their families who have their cases heard by the youth court.
Additional comments:The Blount County Youth Court offers a scholarship to a senior juror - this year that scholarship is $2,000. We could not do this work without the dedication of a group of volunteers and the teens who volunteer their time to hear cases. We will be accepting applications for new jurors for the 2018-2019 school year. The application can be found at the Blount County Youth Court Facebook page or by calling me directly (865-207-2820).