New Teen Court judge sworn in

Published 10:53 pm Saturday, September 9, 2006

Young law offenders have the opportunity to get a taste of what the judicial system is all about as they can have their case heard in Teen Court by a panel of their peers.

Teen court recently added a judge with the swearing in of Dawn Bechtel who has had extensive involvement with the youth of Picayune.

“I’m very humbled and honored to assume this position with the City of Picayune. I’m hoping to reach out and help a lot of kids and parents,” Bechtel said.

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Prior to Bechtel’s new position as Teen Court judge, she was director of the Boys and Girls Club, worked with the Boy Scouts of America in the Picayune School District, worked two years under a grant from the Lower Pearl River Foundation in the Healthy Happy Trails To You, which is a health development program for young people in grades K-12 covering life skills and character development. Bechtel also was director of Camp HIP HOP under the Safe Harbor program through the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation for the Picayune School District and oversaw summer camps with about 2,600 children in the Picayune, Poplarville, Pearl River County and Bay-Waveland school districts. She also worked with the youth group at Resurrection Life for four years, which included more than 500 children in grades 7-12.

“I would predict that this woman is going to bring big changes to this community, specifically the lives of young people who need direction because she doesn’t just talk the talk,” said Dr. Penny Wallin, former Picayune school district superintendent.

Teen court is a program designed to help young people learn the consequences of their actions while learning about the judicial system, said Picayune Police Capt. Ceasar Jones who is director of Teen Court.

The majority of youthful offenders realize they did something wrong, said LaMar Thompson, Teen Court advisor and Explorers director with the Picayune Police Department. Of the 200 cases in the program during the past year, only 11 of the offenders were repeat offenders, Jones said.

Offenses heard by Teen Court could include misdemeanors such as truancy, curfew violations, shoplifting, petit larceny or trespassing, Jones said. Juvenile offenders who plead are referred to the Teen Court, where Judge Bechtel will preside and a panel of their peers will hear the case.

“Teens helping teens basically is what the program boils down to,” Jones said.

Possible punishments for those whose cases are heard by Teen Court include the following: two to three terms of Teen Court jury duty, an educational class, restitution, a letter of apology and/or community service, Jones said.

“They get a little of each one, not just one,” Jones said. “This program was created for the youth of the community by the people. Partnering with the youth through the Teen Court program once again proves that working together works.”

Anyone interested in supporting the Teen Court with a donation can contact Jones or Teen Court coordinator Abraham Villa at 601-798-0374.