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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Children learn about justice in action

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ivy Herron photo

'Yes, your honor.'

Clay Circuit Court Judge Robert Pell answered questions and educated his young courtroom visitors about how a trial works Wednesday afternoon. The visit was part of the YMCA Summer Day Camp activities.

The agonizing affects of drug usage and criminal involvement by family members and friends is changing the way children experience childhood.

"Many children already know about the legal system because friends, neighbors and, tragically, family members are being arrested for drugs or criminal activity," said Pam Fischer, director of the YMCA Summer Day Camp.

A visit to the courthouse is a way for children to see the system from a different perspective.

"So many times children in these situations will perceive members of the justice system and law enforcement as bad guys, when they're not," she said. "This is an opportunity to see police and court officers as people who care about children and that they live safe lives."

Last week, more than 30 children had the opportunity to talk to Clay County Prosecutor Lee Reberger and Circuit Court Judge Robert Pell and visit a court room at the Clay County Courthouse.

Various questions from the children about criminal charges, how people are arrested and what happens in court kept Reberger busy for almost an hour.

"Hopefully, if I have to see you because you've done something wrong, the punishment will be just hard enough to deter you from doing it again. And trust me, if you have to see me, I will punish you," Reberger said. "But if I see you once, I don't want to see you again. My job is to make sure that you never want to do something bad again."

But the most asked question was: "What happens at kid jail?"

Reberger surprised the children by telling them the youngest child sent to our local kids jail at the Southwest Regional Youth Village in Vincennes, Ind., was 7 years old.

"The average age is 14-15 years old, but we have had one as young as 7 years old go to kids jail," he said to the gasps of the children. "That is not normal. A child can be sent there up until their 18th birthday. It is important that the children we do send need to understand what they did was wrong so we can help them correct that behavior."

Helping keep children "on the straight and narrow path of a good life" is important to Judge Pell. He sees many children during the course of divorce, custody and parental rights cases; juvenile cases and other civil matters that appear in his court.

"It can be really tough dealing with parent issues in court while children watch, or dealing with parent and child issues at the same time, sometimes in the same case. They were such a sweet bunch of kids, so enthusiastic, so full of questions," he said. "(Meeting the children) was the nicest part of my job Wednesday. Sometimes we don't think of the courtroom as an exciting place, but they do."

Reberger agreed, adding that it is important for children be able to put a face on the people in the legal system.

"I always appreciate the opportunity to meet with students and talk about what we do in the system," he said. "Sometimes children only see the bad part, or for whatever reason are afraid of the system. This gives them a bad impression. That's not why we are here. We're here to protect our citizens and young people. Young people need to know that we're here for them."

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