Got a traffic ticket? Instead of paying, teens have the chance to go through Garfield’s own peer led restorative justice program.
Seattle Youth Traffic Court, founded in 2012, partners with Seattle Municipal Court, Seattle Police Department, and Seattle University School of Law to hold monthly hearings for young drivers.
The program’s most prominent feature is the emphasis on restorative justice. Sophomore Jennet Mitikie serves primarily as a judge and believes that programs gives valuable networking opportunities to the students involved.
“Let’s say you had a speeding ticket, instead of them having to pay the ticket and not think about it again and probably commit the same thing over again, we take the case into youth court,” said Mitikie. “It’s all about giving back to the community and putting the responsibility in their hands.”
High school volunteers in the program work as various roles in the court such as bailiff, judge, and attorneys.
The cohort meets twice a month, once at SU for training and case assignments, and then a second time at the Seattle Municipal Court downtown.
Mitikie believes Youth Court fosters a sense of community between peers.
“I love the people, I feel like I would not have met some of the people that I have if not for Youth Court. It meshes so many different groups together,” she said.
Law students at Seattle University serve as mentors for the high schoolers involved, working with them on cases and facilitating the monthly trainings and hearings.
“The connections are really valuable, we get to work one on one with Seattle University Law students, they give us insight on going to school for law and pursuing it as a career,” said Mitikie.
Junior Dahlia Gemmer is one of the high school student mentors, and was driven to join Youth Court by a personal connection.
“My mom helped to create the Bothell Youth Court when she was in college and so I signed up when I found out about a similar program at Garfield,” said Gemmer.
Seattle’s not the only city in Washington with a youth court, similar programs are found in Bellevue, Cheney, and Issaquah just to name a few. The courts come together annually at the Washington State Association of Youth Court’s statewide conference.
As of this year Gemmer became one of the high school mentors, working more behind the scenes, she helps prep for the trainings and hearings.
“I like the program because it has helped me tremendously with my public speaking as well as allowing my to become more comfortable in leadership positions that I had shied away from in the past,” she said.
Both Mitikie and Gemmer agree that the group needs more members. With the low time commitment, and easy community service hours the duo hopes to entice more students to join.
“We need more students involved. Every week it’s kind of a struggle to have every role filled in order to have a successful hearing, often leading to prosecution, bailiffs, and judges having to stay on 4 cases. While if we had more people involved they would be on 2 cases maximum.