Kids Have Their Own Court System in Missoula [AUDIO]
When a juvenile gets in trouble with the law, they don't appear in the same courtroom as an adult. Instead, they are referred to Missoula Youth Court.
Glen Welch is Chief Probation Officer in youth court, and every case referred by law enforcement passes through his desk.
"If a kid is arrested, or receives a ticket, all those cases come to me," Welch said. "I read every one of those tickets, and then I assign those out to my court guys"
Welch says every effort is made to keep the process as informal as possible when dealing with children.
"We get in touch with the parents and have what we call an intake hearing," Welch said. "That's an informal proceeding that's held in our office by a probation officer. The kid and his parents are advised of the charge and his rights, and is able to take a plea. At that time, if a kid admits to the charge, and if we feel we can handle the charge as part of our informal system, then we'll venture into some kind of disposition at that time. And, it's all done with the agreement of the kid, the parents, the probation office and an attorney."
Welch said dealing out punishment is done with great care with a juvenile.
"We do anything and everything from community service to writing essays to putting kids on probation, to formal evaluations," Welch said. "We do all that with one thing in mind, to get the kid's attention and let him know he doesn't want to be involved in this system. We work hard with the kid to help him adjust his behavior so he won't ever have to come back. Of course, we also want to protect the community, and lastly, we want to make sure the kid leaves our system better than he was when he came in, because we don't want him to come back here."
Welch said the authorities in Missoula have given him freedom to use innovative approaches in dealing with children in the judicial system.
"For instance, we do a jobs program," Welch said. "The kids are being trained how to interview and how to look for a job, and sometimes the program can even help kids get a job. If I were to do some of these things in other communities, they'd say I was crazy. But, because I'm here they say, maybe these things will work, and that's why I love where I work,"
Welch said over the years, many men and women have returned to his office to say how the intervention of youth court helped to shape them into productive adults.