Tina Watts named Blount Youth Court director; youth volunteers sought
By Karen B. Eldridge | Maryville College
Tina Watts, a rising senior at Maryville College, has been named executive director of the new Blount County Youth Court.
The mother of six children whose ages range from 19 to 30, Watts has been involved in tnAchieves in Knox County, a last dollar scholarship and mentoring program designed to provide an opportunity for Tennessee public high school graduates. Four of her children are currently in college.
At the college, Watts is majoring in philosophy and involved in the Non-Profit Leadership Alliance, the Voices of Praise gospel choir and the Non-Traditional Student Organization.
“Members of the Blount County Youth Court Board were impressed with Tina’s clear commitment to helping improve the lives of teens,” said Lynn Peterson, president of the Blount County Youth Court and an attorney with Lewis, King, Kreig & Waldrop. “She understands how vital it is for youth to make good choices and connect with their community.
“We also were drawn to Tina because of her experience with her own children and her ability to communicate with and motive young people — both the offenders and the youth volunteers.”
With the executive director in place, the Youth Court, a Legacy project for the Leadership Blount Class of 2013, is expected to convene in October.
The program will operate under the supervision of Judge William Denton. High school volunteers will hear the cases and determine the sentences of first-time, nonviolent juvenile offenders.
Applications for youth volunteers who would be willing to serve as peer jurors are being accepted through Aug. 23 and are available for download at http://dropcanvas.com 2eu7 or by visiting http://facebook.com .
Interested youth should live in Blount County and be enrolled in grades 9 through 12.
“We encourage all types of students to apply,” Peterson said. “We would like a diverse group of teens listening to and evaluating cases and formulating solutions. Each person brings his or her unique perspective to each case.
“High grades and prior community service are not required, and applicants who may have personal or family experience with the juvenile justice system are encouraged to apply and help get this project off the ground on the right foot and with the right tone,” she added.
The court will meet at the Alcoa Safety Building every other week, but not all volunteers will be needed for all sessions. Each jury will consist of five to nine students.
Much like the process of selecting juries in other courts, the students will not be asked to be on a jury if they know the offender or his/her family, attend the same school, or for some other reason feel they cannot impartially hear the case, or if the session interferes with other school, church and family activities.
Peterson said the Youth Court Board hopes to have 30 youth volunteers selected soon so that training sessions can be scheduled. Those sessions will be led by community leaders including judges, district attorney general and assistant attorney generals, members of police and sheriff departments, guidance counselors, school resource officers and attorneys.
Initial training will only take a total of 10 to 12 hours but will be ongoing as opportunities present themselves throughout the year, Peterson said.
“Participation with the Blount County Youth Court offers students interested in any aspect of law enforcement or the legal system an opportunity to see the process at work from the inside and from the ground up, and offers a unique opportunity to work on pending cases and impact lives and families in their community,” Peterson explained.
“It would also be beneficial to anyone interested in the social sciences because of the opportunities to learn about the impact of community service on individuals and its ability to turn mistakes into opportunities.”
Youth courts were authorized by the state Legislature in 2000, and 13 youth courts are currently operating across the state.
“While 18 percent of youth who have appeared before traditional juvenile courts in Tennessee have committed future offenses, the rate of youth re-offending after sentencing by youth courts is under 7 percent,” Peterson pointed out.
For more information, contact Watts at 244-9692 or Peterson at 207-2820.