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Diversity conference speaks on youth court

The 21st Annual WSU Diversity Conference commenced its two-day event with keynote speakers to educate the students about race, class, gender and status.

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Judge Heward is passionate about her work and wants to inform everyone (Israel Campa / The Signpost)

Judge Michelle Heward, recently appointed to the Ogden Second District Juvenile Court, was the keynote speaker. The former Weber State University professor spoke about how youth courts fit into the recent Utah juvenile justice reforms.

Heward’s vision for juvenile courts is to provide the youth with an opportunity to learn from their mistakes instead of being charged with severities that could possibly ruin their lives, believing they are receptive to other methods of progressive learning.

She also believed in educating the youth on government, the courts, juvenile justice and civic services. Most juvenile courts have volunteers who mentor youth who need guidance and attention to the various educational strategies.

Volunteers are there to influence the youth of real-world changes once they’re ready to leave the juvenile court system. Some are training the youth to be judges, clerks and bailiffs in order to stay out of potentially harmful situations.

“Youth court leaders had a vision, a vision of making a difference in their communities one child at a time,” Heward said. “Great vision and dreams will build.”

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Judge Michelle Heward awaits to go on the stage as she is introduced (Israel Campa / The Signpost)

The Utah Youth Court Diversion Act, passed in 1999, provided alternative dispositions for juvenile offenders. Through adult supervision, they’re able to participate in community services, issue apology letters and partake in educational classes and mentor programs.

Some participants may receive school credits through the youth court, a change within the latest legislation reform as a restorative justice program.

“Think about going into a closed courtroom with an old judge compared to going in front of other youth that believes it wasn’t right. They have a power that youth will listen to,” Heward said.

Heward said peer pressure can be positive and uplifting, and the outcomes of youth courts are that they’re restoring. She teaches youth about their wrongdoings in order to educate them to prepare them for life after court.

These programs are continuously searching to recruit students willing to put in the time to learn about becoming part of a youth court to mentor those who need it.

“In my world, working with youth and their families, I suggest that a just society is not just criminal justice. A just society is free of neglect, where children are safe and are able to live in their own homes,” Heward said. “A just society is free of poverty and the devastating impact of mental health. A just society is one that transforms those who offend its laws into productive members of society within its bounds.”

If a student is interested in volunteering for a youth court, there are opportunities in Layton and Ogden.

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