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KCMO Youth Court back in session after 2-year hiatus

kcmo youth court
Posted at 10:18 PM, May 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-16 23:20:13-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It's a program giving teens in Kansas City, Missouri, a real impact inside the courtroom and in their peer's life.

Kansas City Youth Court returned for the first time since the pandemic on Monday evening.

Held inside a courtroom at the UMKC Law School, the judge, prosecutor and defense attorney are all teenagers.

It's a diversion program through the Jackson County Family Court where usually first-time juvenile offenders accused of crimes like vandalism and trespassing go in front of their peers who decide the outcome.

Sometimes that's tough.

"Because it’s actually real cases, it's not like a mock trial and it's a real people's lives that we're impacting," Sydne Sylvan, who is participating in KCMO Youth Court, said.

After spending weeks learning about constitutional law and the criminal justice system, Danni Haley is graduating this year's Youth Court.

"It's a lot of weight, but at the same time, it's a weight that I'm okay with," Haley said. "Because I know that I get to make a meaningful impact."

The cohort will handle about 10 cases monthly.

To bring in more cases, Youth Court administrators are looking to partner with the Kansas City Public Schools District and the Center School District so first-time suspensions can be considered here in courtroom versus a principal's office.

"And learn that those actions aren't appropriate, have peer mentoring and leadership to show them better ways to handle those circumstances in the future," Judge Martina Peterson, with the KCMO municipal court, said.

All while opening the doors to the next generation of legal eagles.

"It's a little scary at first, to be honest, just to have that much responsibility at that time," Jefferson 'Jake' Wolfe, an assistant director of Kansas City Youth Court, said.

"Teens listen to other teens better than adults," Kayla Kratofil, a family law attorney said. "So being able to relate on a peer to peer basis, proves incredibly effective."

KCMO Youth Court is for teens ages 13 to 18 in KCMO with a clean criminal record and a minimum 2.5 GPA. You must also complete the training and pass an exam.