‘Courts to School’ offers inside look at judicial system


ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Students at one Albuquerque high school will be hit with a hard dose of reality Wednesday. They’ll witness the real-life consequences of drinking and driving when Valley High School opens its gymnasium to the Courts to School program. It’s a public outreach program designed to show students the legal consequences of making the choice to drink and drive.

They’ll bring in a judge’s bench, tables for prosecution and defense attorneys and even security into Valley High’s gym. From there, a metro court judge will hear actual cases, complete with actual defendants. They’re charged with misdemeanor DWI. Not only have they agreed to plead guilty and accept their sentences, but they’ll also take the time to speak to students about the impact of the charge and conviction.

Judge Sharon Walton says the program was created to send a message – that people make poor decisions and have to pay the consequences. She says she hopes students can learn from defendants’ experience and avoid similar situations.

“We’re hoping that the impact of that, of seeing people that are just from the community, just like brothers sisters, aunts uncles, have made a mistake and they address the students, they tell them about their life experience and to see them put in handcuffs and taken to jail,” explains Walton.

Walton says the initial goal of the program was to show kids what happens when they drink and drive, but she says that’s changed over the years. She says it’s also a chance to show young adults what the judicial system is all about.

Walton adds that this is a flexible program. Judges are able to tailor their message to what administrators at specific schools deem is most important, like a focus on cyber bullying, for example.

“That engagement is something I think is missing throughout the schools,” Walton says.

Walton says most of what kids know about court comes from media, books and movies. She says that means teens don’t get the full picture.

Walton says it’s important for kids to understand the function judges and probation officers play in the legal system and what it’s like to hold those jobs. She says it gives students an opportunity to see the different roles in the criminal justice system, and possibly spark their interest in a career.

Plus, Walton says kids often have a lot of questions as to how a courtroom operates and what better place to learn more than in an actual courtroom.

“To understand and appreciate what happens here is vital, just as important to know how the legislature works and how a bill is passed and what the governor does,” Walton explains.

Walton says her favorite part of the program is answering students’ questions and learning their interests.

She adds that this is a flexible program. Judges are able to tailor their message to what administrators at specific schools deem is most important for their students, like a focus on cyber bullying, for example.

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