Joren Clowers (‘17) graduated from UW Bothell with a double major in Law, Economics & Public Policy and American & Ethnic Studies, with a minor in Human Rights. Joren Clowers participated in the Bothell Youth Court (BYC) almost the whole time he was a student at UW Bothell, and continues to work with BYC in a coordinating and advocacy role post-graduation. Clowers is currently a graduate student in IAS’s Master of Arts in Policy Studies program, where he is researching how Native American tribes can enter into compacts with the governor to enter into the legal marijuana market. Recently, Clowers took some time off from research and work to sit down with us for the following interview about his experiences over the years in Bothell Youth Court.
How did you find out about the Bothell Youth Court?
I had just started as a pre-Business major when I took Intro to Law with Karrin Klotz. Based on that one class, I immediately decided to pursue Law, Economics & Public Policy (LEPP) instead. So I then took the foundational LEPP course (BISLEP 301) with Camille Walsh. I liked Professor Walsh as a teacher, and I enrolled in the Youth Court Task Force class in the spring of my first year. Then I went on the D.C. Human Rights Seminar at the end of that summer, which was also led by Professor Walsh. That experience made me realize that I had to keep doing Bothell Youth Court.
What exactly is a youth court?
Youth court is a true jury of your peers. The general youth court model is youth hearing real life cases and deciding on them – a normal court proceeding, but run by youth. But Bothell Youth Court’s focus on restorative justice gets away from standard proceedings and vocabulary and moves to another level. For example we have a respondent and respondent advocate instead of defendant, and a community advocate instead of a prosecutor. The hearing itself has a judge, jury, witnesses, and expert witnesses.
At the conclusion of most youth courts, the jury removes itself from the courtroom to deliberate and comes back with a disposition. Instead, we have a restorative justice circle. The jury comes down to the middle of the courtroom and everyone involved in the case sits in a circle. This circle idea comes from Indian Law, and uses a talking piece. Whoever has the talking piece is able to speak to the whole circle. The circle then identifies the harms that were caused – or could have been caused – in the incident that was just heard in the court proceedings. Then the entire group discusses how to heal those harms and comes up with a disposition on the case together with the jury, witnesses, advocates, parents, and the respondent. This process also takes in the needs of the respondent.
Recently, we presented the Bothell Youth Court model at the Washington State Civic Learning Initiative Summit. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was in attendance. At one point Justice Sotomayor stopped our presentation and asked if we’d ever heard of Indian Law. When I explained our process and where it comes from, she was surprised that we knew about Indian Law and she expressed her excitement that we were doing it to that level in Bothell Youth Court.
Do you have any examples of how this actually works?
One example that I like involves a respondent who was speeding in a school zone. He had a fast car with a loud muffler, you know? Well, he just did not think he should be in court, not youth court or any court. He didn’t think it was a big deal – not a great attitude. So the group’s disposition was that he had to go to the elementary school that he sped through and had to be a crossing guard for a period of time, write a reflection on it, and then sit on some subsequent youth court juries. A couple of weeks later we get back his reflection letter. It was extremely interesting to see his realization as to why 20 miles an hour speed limits in school zones are so important. In the process of acting as a crossing guard at the school, a car sped right past him as he was stepping out into the street! He said he now sees why what he did was so wrong.
What is the role of UW Bothell student in the youth court?
What we do as college students is put on two trainings a quarter. Students in the class will attend a hearing, develop a training for the youth court based on what they observed in the hearing, and run the training. This can be practice scenarios, exercises on questioning the expert witness, or any other area of proceedings to be worked on. One of my favorite aspects of youth court is this student involvement. It gives high school students the opportunity to interact with college students. We get 30 kids to come to campus for the training, we get food donated, and we’ll sit and mingle, talking about experiences and college planning, SATs, and general advice.
In your own words, how would you define restorative justice?
Restorative justice is a toolkit to identify the needs of both the respondent and the community, as well as the harms that the respondent inflicted on the community. As a process, restorative justice brings together the full community to come up with the best way to make up for the harms that were caused, really taking into account the needs of all parties involved.
How did your Bothell Youth Court experiences play into your academic studies?
I’ve studied with Dan Berger, in American & Ethnic Studies (AES), for example, looking at prison issues and mass incarceration. That’s helped me understand youth court as a program that insulates high school students from bad initial experiences with the judicial system. That experience can be formative down the line. It’s an interaction with the judicial system that doesn’t reinforce negative attitudes like “these people are out to get me,” which in turn contributes to higher rates of recidivism. By addressing the harms that were created, as well as the needs of the individual who committed an offense, youth court is more likely to keep them out of the judicial system down the road.
In Law Economics & Public Policy, I’ve been working with the Washington State Association of Youth Courts to expand the definition of youth courts to encompass 13-18 year olds, as opposed to just high school students. This would allow youth court to handle cases of middle school students in rural Washington who receive numerous tickets for smoking cigarettes outside of school. Youth court would engage in peer education and discussion, to figure out why it is happening and how to stop it. My research, in other words, has focused on how we can make a larger impact with our model of restorative justice.
You have worked for years with the Bothell Youth Court. Why should other UW Bothell students participate?
Bothell Youth Court opens the door to actually being involved in the judicial system directly. This isn’t mock trial. It’s not pretend cases, or theoretical scenarios. Bothell Youth Court actually decides the fate of someone’s ticket, and IAS’s Youth Court Task Force class contributes to this awesome system. What UW students get out of it is the chance to help people directly, affecting their lives, as well as make a lasting impression on high school students.
A Bothell Youth Court hearing in progress