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Teen Court combined justice with peer sense

Brown County Commissioners decided it is time to discontinue a program that has served a very useful purpose here since 1998. Brown County Teen Court, operated through the Brown County Probation Office, gave first time youthful offenders a chance to be examined and judged by a jury of their peers — other teens.

Under the guidance of Mary Ann Wonn of the probation office, Teen Court jurors met with the offenders and their parents, asked probing questions about what they did and why they did it, deliberated and came up with fair, appropriate and oftentimes creative sentences. The youthful offenders, who all admitted their guilt as a condition of going to Teen Court, avoid appearing in formal court and, if they complete the conditions of their sentence, would have their charges dismissed.

Over the years, 1,100 teens have been trained to be jurors from all over the county. Some of them had been through Teen Court themselves. Teen jurors have a way of cutting through lies and excuses to force the defendants to face the truth of what they did and take responsibility. They also provide an empathy that might not be available in formal court.

Teen court is ending, said Probation Director Les Schultz, for a good reason. There aren’t as many juvenile offenders being referred as in the past. In 2018 there were 30 offenders. In 2019, only 13 were referred. It’s not feasible to continue the program for such small numbers, but it’s possible to bring the program back if need arises in the future.

Teen Court has done a great job in Brown County for the court system and for the young people it serves. It has served us all very well.

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