Juvenile Gun Court takes aim at reducing youth violence

Juvenile Gun Court takes aim at reducing youth violence

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Inside a large room at Birmingham Police Department's South Precinct Monday night, several young men sat side-by-side with their parent and expressed their career aspirations.

One-by-one they stated what they hope they can achieve in the future. From military servicemen to mathematicians and engineers, the possibilities were endless.

But for 10 young people this year in Jefferson County, their possibilities came to an end. Gun violence cut the lives of 10 young people short.

The Jefferson County Coroner's Office identified the victims as all under the age of 18.

It's the same age group of the young men inside South Precinct. They too are feeling the impacts of gun violence because each one is facing a gun charge.

It's their first gun offense.

Monday, they learned exactly how guns and gun violence can alter their life. It's a part of Jefferson County Juvenile Gun Court.

It's an initiative with the county's Family Court Juvenile Division.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the county's Juvenile Gun Court was established in 1995 by Sandra H. Storm, a Circuit Court Judge in the Family Court.

At that time, juvenile murders had reached a peak of 25. The court has been running ever since.

Through Gun Court there's a Parent Education Program. It's a part of the offenders' sentence and a parent or guardian must attend.

The Parent Education Program is a nine-week course that happens four times a year.

This quarter, there are about 10 people required to appear in gun court alongside their parent or guardian.

Monday was Week 8.

"It's a ripple effect and it impacts a lot of people. We might as well start with the smallest portion: the family," said Anjanette Robinson a program facilitator.

With only one more week to go before this course ends, both the parent and participants said they're getting something out of the program.

"We've learned from what we've did," said one participant.

Another said he felt like his mother cared about him, by attending the required class.

For the parents, it's been a learning experience.

"It pointed out a lot of misunderstandings between him and I," said one mom.

"I thought we were close and had a good bond, but I guess it wasn't close enough for him to tell me he bought a gun," said another mom.

The course is for first time offenders, who charges range from gun possession to unlawful breaking and theft.

One participant said, he stole a gun to get money. While others had gun possession charges.

When asked about Birmingham's gun violence, their reactions varied.

"People are killing people over something that's not that deep," said one participant.

"Family members are making the wrong decisions and putting their family in danger, "said another participant.

For others, this course has forced them to reflect on their own actions.

"It made me want to make better decisions to not be in the same predicament," a participant said.

Each week, there's a guest speaker. Last week it was Jefferson County Coroner Bill Yates.

This week it was District Attorney Ms. Gina Levart. She's been assigned to family court for 11 years.

She told the class that they need to get their act together.

"One foolish choice, one foolish charge can go a long way in your life. "

Levert reminded the teens that they didn't need a gun.

"We don't need you to find yourself in a situation where you feel you need a gun. I want you to think about living, not dying," Levert said.

The course facilitator said the reason for teens having guns has changed over the last decade. She said it went from kids showing off to friends to school bullying to now where students feel like they need to protect themselves.

Despite the efforts put in by the facilitators, guest speakers and participants, some still believed they need to protect themselves.

"I feel like everybody need a gun," one participant claimed.

Wanting their view to change Lervert left the group with encouraging words: "I want you to have hope and look forward to tomorrow."

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