Teen Court has gone through two sessions since it was reinstated. In its time, it has seen many faces and opened opportunities for those on both sides of the podium.
Ragan Langrell participated in the program after Juvenile Circuit Judge Troy B. Braswell Jr. spoke to teens at Greenbrier High School.
A senior seeking a social worker’s career path, Langrell said she wanted to make a difference.
"I decided to join teen court because I wanted to help my peers and make an impact on my community," she said. "I also thought it would be a really cool experience."
Langrell said at times it was tough to hear cases but that she loved the experience.
While serving Faulkner County’s teen court, each teen involved in the program wore many hats, serving every role from prosecutor to bailiff.
"Being the prosecuting attorney really changed my perspective on things," Langrell said. "You seem to prejudge people before you actually hear the whole side of things. Once I [listened to stories] it really made me think about people at my school and how they could be going through things things that cause them to act out."
Judge Braswell said the 2017 teen court class was "a very special class."
"They showed compassion but were willing to be tough when it was appropriate," he said. "They sought to understand why the juvenile was in court and how they could best serve the juvenile and the community through their expectations and explained why they were rendering certain portions of their verdict."
Langrell said at times reaching a decison was difficult.
"It was difficult because nothing is cut and dry," she said. "You have to take everything into consideration. Their home life, their grades, how they act at school versus [how they act at] home, their friends … everything."
She said there’s a lot of grey area that leaves room to decipher how a person is and what verdict they deserve.
While she may not have personally known any of the individuals placed before her during the experience, the process was still tough, she said.
Braswell said the teen court class reached out to their peers in more ways than he could have imagined.
The compassion they showed their peers was eye opening, he said.
"On one occasion, a participant approached me and asked if they could serve as a mentor to the juvenile after the case was over," he said. "In another sign of compassion, one student helped the [troubled] juvenile defendant [find] a new job. The juvenile was crying with joy over the compassion and care the jury showed for her. It is in these moments that you truly see teen court working. If that happens only once, we have been successful."
Braswell said moments like this did not happen just once with this session’s teens.
"With this class, it happened time and time again," he said. "These amazing high school seniors will do great things. They learned the importance of being a positive example and helping those during times of need."
This year’s teen court was the second session since the program was reinstated.
Braswell said the program is two-fold, in that it helps troubled teens as well as those involved on the court side.
"It helps them get out of that bubble," he said, noting the program helped teens see there’s more to every situation other than the smaller troubles they see in their own lives.
High school seniors are eligible to serve a court-side role in the teen court program.
Teens serve peers between an age range of 10 to 17 years of age.
Braswell said he will visit with high school seniors in the fall to recruit for the 2018 class.
Langrell said she became more involved with the program than she initially thought.
She also said she wanted to do more for the troubled youth after serving in the program.
"I really wanted to get to know some of the kids better," she said. "You can really see the kids that want to be better deep down and I wanted so badly to help them outside of just teen court. It helped me decide my future career."
Langrell said the experience was eye opening.
"Kids aren’t just bad," she said. "Most of what they go through is because of other outside influences. [This opportunity] makes you think of other kids at school. It helps you not to judge them but rather be their friend and try to understand their circumstance."
Langrell said being a member of teen court helped her grow and noted she would more than recommend becoming a member to anyone.