The new Teen Court coordinator says the juvenile alternative sentencing program teaches civics and gives teenagers a second chance.
The Portales City Council approved Mary Poynor to replace Barbara George as the coordinator earlier this month.
In the Teen Court program, middle- and high-school students volunteer to serve as attorneys and jury members in a courtroom that sentences first-time juvenile offenders. Poynor said sentences include such things as community service and letters of apology.
Adult volunteers facilitate Teen Court’s operation.
“I wanted to help with the community somehow and help those young people when they kind of get off track a little,” Poynor said of her reasons for applying.
The coordinator is a part-time, grant-funded position under the Portales/Roosevelt County DWI Program. Poynor’s official start date is Sept. 1, but she said she was already making sure community service hours were being completed and compiling lists of volunteers and non-profit organizations who are willing to participate.
The Juvenile Probation and Parole Office sends Teen Court most of its cases, she said. Portales/Roosevelt County DWI Program Coordinator Marcia Brown said Teen Court has nine to 12 cases a month for nine months out of the year.
In addition to her new role, Poynor is the secretary to the Ninth Judicial District Court child support hearing officer. She has worked in the court system since 1996, moving there from a position with juvenile probation in the District Attorney’s Office.
Poynor said her oldest daughter volunteered with Teen Court under George and enjoyed the experience.
“Barbara George had this program running very well when she retired,” Poynor said. “I don’t want to change anything at this time. … Ask me in a year, and I’ll see if there are any changes.”
Poynor said her main goal with the program is to get the participating young people to become positive members of the community.
“Teen court is an excellent program for our youth in this area,” she said. “It allows them to right wrong. It gives them confidence to pursue careers they never would have thought of before.”
For volunteer juries and attorneys, Poynor said, Teen Court exposes them to the court system they’ll participate in as adults.
Poynor said the program provides a second chance to teenagers who didn’t mean to do what they did and helps their families in terms of avoiding the stigma of a criminal record. If offenders complete the program, their charges don’t go on their permanent records.
“There aren’t bad kids here in this town,” Poynor said. “They just kind of stray away.”