Cass County sworn in to new class of youth court volunteers

CASS COUNTY, Mo. – Teens in Cass County are stepping up to help a sometimes overburdened criminal justice system.

“Youth courts,” like the one in Cass County, exist across the country.

Volunteers like Jim Eftink say they can have a huge impact on juvenile offenders.

“Perhaps most important – it has a very strong deterrent factor for the defendants themselves,” Eftink said. “The fact that they have to walk into a courtroom and face a judge who is around the same age as them has a more powerful and profound effect on them.”

Eftink helps train youth court volunteers like Lilly Johnson and Sam Claiborn, who both studied for weeks to pass the youth court version of the bar.

Thursday night’s swearing-in ceremony at the historic Cass County Courthouse makes it official.

“It makes me feel like I played a part in the justice system,” Claiborne said.

Data from the United States Department of Justice shows that in 2019 alone, juvenile court handled more than 700,000 cases. Youth courts help alleviate this enormous burden.

Juvenile court jurors fill a crucial gap that many minors go through. By taking on the most minor cases, he frees tradition and the often overloaded legal system.

Johnson thinks it’s a better option for defendants who might just need a nudge in the right direction.

“Regardless of the circumstances, teenagers understand teenagers because we all go through similar things on different levels and we can provide an unbiased and fair solution to their offences,” she said.

A total of twenty-one youth court volunteers graduated Thursday evening.

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