Alaska Youth Courts

There are 9 young

Court Programs in Alaska: Anchorage Youth Court, MatSu Youth Court, North Star Youth Court, Kodiak

Youth Court, Nome Youth Court, Valdez Youth Court, Juneau Youth Court, Ketchikan Youth Court and

Kenai Peninsula Juvenile Court (with branches in Kenai, Homer and Voznesenka). United Youth Courts

of Alaska is their statewide organization dedicated to supporting and networking these programs and

there are a significant number of young people involved. The Kenai Peninsula group had five students in

presence, two from Homer and the others from different places on the peninsula. I was able to join

as a chaperone for the event and participate in all conference features.

Youth court provides an opportunity for young people accused of breaking the law to be

judged by their peers. This program is available as a service for students aged 12 to

18. Youth court members gain an understanding of the law through legal education, youth court bar

Association membership and effective participation in Kenai Juvenile Court proceedings.

Ginny Espenshade is the director of the Kenai Peninsula Juvenile Court and told me more about the

statewide organization and event when we returned to Homer.

“My name is Ginny Espenshade and I started as a volunteer at the Kenai Peninsula Youth Court when he

began its first series of classes in 1996. It was modeled after the Anchorage Juvenile Court and the Matsu

The Youth Court also started at the same time. The main ideas of youth court are to give young people

people who get in trouble with the law a second chance without having a permanent conviction or

judgment on their case and also giving their peers a chance to help them and the theory being that

as adolescence enters this stage of their life, they pay more attention to what their peers are saying

what adults say. And so it’s a way of channeling that positive peer pressure. So, then in 1997, Kenai

The Peninsula Juvenile Court secured a grant from the state’s Juvenile Justice Division and announced

for a director and I applied for the job. And one of the motivations was how much I enjoyed

teach the Homer youth classes, but I also wanted to make sure the Homer program was

included in the non-profit association of the peninsula and I have been doing it since then.

“Ours is the only program in the state to have more than one location. So before the pandemic, we

gave training courses to Kenai as well as to Homer and approximately every three years at the head of the

Bay communities of Voznesenka, Razdolna and Kachemak Selo. And then we would also go to those

communities to keep our records. We have a lot of support from the school district and we have support

from the justice system to the use of their facilities, their courtrooms. We continue to receive state subsidies

of the Juvenile Justice Division. Types of cases referred to youth court, many people

are familiar with a mock trial program where it’s hypothetical cases, but in youth court we’re

actually dealing with real cases involving their peers. And so the kinds of references we get are

cases of underage alcoholism referred to us by the judges of the Homer and Kenai District Courts and the other

types of offenses such as shoplifting, minor assaults, possession or use of small amounts of marijuana

that come to us through the juvenile justice system and in those two areas, youth students

The court decides the consequences of the offense taking into account restorative justice to help it.

young people take a better path.

I ask him to tell me a bit more about how the procedure works.

“Youth court proceedings are all student voices. Defense lawyers are students

the prosecutors are students and the judges are students. We work with the justice system and often our

local judges help train our students. There are youth courts all over the country and, in fact, all over the

world now, but Alaska has one of the broadest and deepest licensing laws for juvenile courts

that we can determine guilt or innocence in certain types of cases, and we also have the power to

all our cases to decide the consequences.

Would you like to talk a bit about the annual conference trip?

“Of course there is a statewide association and I like to brag about it because it was started by a

Student of Homer, Loren Abshure. We went to a conference probably in 1998 or 1999 in Anchorage. And

there’s been a lot of talk about how we should have a statewide association to network because

once a year was the only time we met for conference and Loren stayed up all night

come up with a proposal and ask the conference coordinator for time and he proposed it and

he said to anyone who wants to start this association statewide, we will meet in the next room during

lunch, then he did his senior project the following year creating this non-profit organization, United Youth

Courts of Alaska and it’s really lucky that he did it because it became a mechanism to make sure we did

have conferences. We tried to rotate them around the state so that every program in the state could show

out of their community and discover the pleasure and the very difficult work of organizing a conference. So we have

had two in Kenai and Homer, the last one in Homer was in 2013 so we have to host another one

soon. Conferences bring students together with their adult administrators and board members or

accompanying parents. It’s a lot of cross-training, a lot of networking and then we try to do activities

where children get to know each other. Some of my favorite conferences have taken place in Nome. We have also

We had an amazing time in Sitka and have been to Fairbanks several times, Kodiak several times Valdez twice.

It was only the second time that Mat-Su had hosted the conference.

Some of the events students were able to participate in this year were: a keynote address by the speaker

Hasan Davis, “Hope Dealer”, watches the film “Like”, a documentary on the search for a balance in our digital

world and the disturbing reality of tech addiction, Homer Police sponsored Project Drive

Department, a back-to-school simulation activity and a Q&A session with an Alaska State judge


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