PHOTO #1: Juveniles who are completing community service through the City of Victoria Municipal Court have the option of attending a class taught by Mid-Coast Family Services’ Youth Prevention Department once per month. The classes count toward the juveniles’ community service requirements. Topics include alcohol abuse, managing emotions and setting goals.
Performing court-ordered community service can be difficult when a defendant is too young to drive.
Last year, the City of Victoria Municipal Court promoted Elizabeth Montes to the newly created role of juvenile case manager to help the court’s youngest defendants and their families navigate the justice system. The court has the same goals for its juveniles as it does for its adult defendants: to make sure they pay their debts to society and get back on the right path.
Montes’ defendants range from 10 to 16 years old. Since the Municipal Court only handles Class C misdemeanors, their crimes are nonviolent and include curfew breaking, petty theft, alcohol or tobacco possession and underage driving.
“My message to them is, ‘You made a mistake, but we’re going to help you get back on track,’” Montes said.
Setting a course from day one
Before a juvenile defendant’s first hearing, Montes meets with the juvenile and caregivers to explain different types of pleas and tell them what to expect during the hearing.
Montes works with caregivers to decide whether additional consequences besides community service could be appropriate. For example, a juvenile who is having behavior problems at home could be required to write an apology letter.
As part of this process, Montes also tries to determine whether the juvenile could benefit from additional intervention or counseling.
Montes has found that caregivers appreciate the appointments and the additional communication and support for themselves and their children.
“They understand that this program is a good thing for their kids,” Montes said.
Helping them give back
PHOTO #2: The City of Victoria Municipal Court hosts supervised volunteer opportunities for its juvenile defendants, including a monthly trip to the Mid-Coast Family Services thrift store, where the juveniles help with sorting donations.
One of the reasons juvenile defendants often have trouble completing their community service requirements is that many nonprofits do not allow children to volunteer without adult supervision. Montes explained that this can be a problem if the juvenile’s caregivers are unable to provide supervision.
To solve this problem, Montes hosts optional supervised volunteer opportunities for the juveniles. For example, she worked with Keep Victoria Beautiful to adopt a section of Loop 463 near the Victoria Mall for monthly cleanups.
Montes also partnered with Mid-Coast Family Services’ Youth Prevention Department to organize a monthly classroom lesson that counts toward the juveniles’ community service requirements.
Mid-Coast Chief of Operations Brett Jones said Mid-Coast chooses topics from its evidence-based curriculum to suit the needs of at-risk youth: topics like alcohol abuse, managing emotions and setting goals.
After the class, the juveniles spend time volunteering at the Mid-Coast thrift store.
“We always have a lot to do at the thrift store, so we appreciate the help,” Jones said. “This program is a great way for these kids to give back and gain life skills.”
A better path
Montes has seen firsthand how the positive support from the program, as well as the experience of completing community service, can influence juveniles to change their behavior.
“Some of my kids have told me that they really enjoyed volunteering and want to continue going back,” Montes said. “I’ve also heard positive feedback from the nonprofits where they’ve volunteered.”
Montes explained that the additional support and accountability help the juveniles to avoid relapsing.
“Sometimes they need to have that positive influence—someone who’s in their corner, saying, ‘I know you can do this,’” Montes said.
Local nonprofits that would like to host the juveniles as volunteers should contact the court at 361-485-3050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Municipal Court programs and services, visit www.victoriatx.gov/municipalcourt. To partner with the court for an educational event or other type of outreach, visit www.victoriatx.gov/courtoutreach.