Spartanburg County Criminal Justice Youth Institute

Spartanburg students eager to delve into justice system

By Allison M. Roberts, www.goupstate.com

High school students from Spartanburg and their parents gathered Thursday night to help launch the Spartanburg County Criminal Justice Youth Institute.

The program is a collaboration between the Spartanburg County clerk of court and the Spartanburg County Foundation. The foundation is providing support for the program and a $15,000 matching grant.

The students who are participating will go through four sessions that introduce them to different areas of local government. They’ll have sessions at Spartanburg City Hall, the Spartanburg County Detention Center, the Sheriff’s Office and the courthouse.

Clerk of court Hope Blackley said she hopes the participants will come away with a positive view of the criminal justice system.

“That’s my goal for them,” Blackley said.

Mary Thomas, chief operating office with the Spartanburg County Foundation, said she wants the students to gain a deeper understanding of the criminal justice system. Ultimately, she hopes their exposure to law enforcement, attorneys and other professionals will spur their interest in a career in the field.

“We hope they get to have a clear understanding of how the system works, because there is so much in social media and in the media in general that portrays it in such a negative light,” Thomas said. “We want to build a community, and the young people is where we have to start.”

David Goodson, 18, a Broome High School student, is an aspiring politician, which is what inspired him to take part in the program. Goodson said politics is an exciting field, and he’s hoping his experiences in the criminal justice youth institute will help prepare him for that.

Goodson said he’s especially looking forward to being in the courtroom. He wants to see the “law and order” of the system and the challenges judges face while trying to make decisions.

Ameera Surka, 16, from Spartanburg Day School, is also looking forward to observing court proceedings.

The criminal justice system and its inner workings are interesting, Surka said, and she’s looking forward to learning more. She said she hopes when the program is over, she can educate people about the criminal justice system and dispel some of the misconceptions.

“Not many people under the age of 18 are going to be able to see things like that because we can’t do jury duty,” Surka said. “I’m really excited to be part of this.”

Sara Hawkins, 16, from Chapman High School, is planning for a career in law enforcement when she’s older. She’s given some thought to being a homicide detective and is eager to see how each branch of local government works.

Like Surka, she wants to leave the program with enough knowledge about the process to educate people who may distrust law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

“I think nowadays law enforcement has a negative view,” Hawkins said. “That’s really disappointing to me, because to me, it’s about making a difference and making the world a better place. I think the biggest thing that will come out of this is people seeing that a lot of these people seriously want to help other people and change the world for the better.”