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Court-ordered program puts teens on right path

As Published in the August 14th, 2009, Lynchburg News & Advance

A teenager picks up trash

along Bedford Avenue in Lynchburg

as part of the Teen Clean court-ordered program.



By Carrie J. Sidener

Published: August 14, 2009

Jill Nance/The News & Advance

Empty beer bottles filled openings in a cinderblock wall on Amherst Street, their caps trampled into the dirt.

Gretchen Hutt noticed the trash as she walked past, carrying an orange garbage bag.

“Isn’t that gross?” she asked a group of teens who were with her Thursday.

Then she told them to clean it up.

The teens, nearly a dozen in all, spent several hours gathering trash in the Daniel’s Hill neighborhood as part of a court-ordered program called “Teen Clean.”

Hutt, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Lynchburg, asked one girl in the program for underage possession of alcohol if her drink was worth picking up beer bottles that were someone else’s litter.

“This is torture,” came the reply.

The teenagers, Hutt and two other community court workers gathered trash and cleaned up the yards around Miles Market, Bedford Avenue, Cabell Street, Madison and Harrison streets.

Donna Nash, community prosecution coordinator, hopes the experience will help the teens develop a sense of accountability and a feeling of giving something meaningful back to their community.

That’s the point of the community court program — to take teenagers who have gotten into legal trouble and address why they landed in court in the first place, along with teaching them how to be productive members of their community.

If they successfully complete the program, their criminal record disappears and the teens get a clean start.

Officials often administer creative punishments. One teen, for example, was ordered to research and write an essay on how one punch could kill someone. Others have talk to someone whose life has been destroyed by alcoholism.

Thursday, the task was picking up trash and brush along neighborhood streets littered with cigarette butts and other garbage.

“It’s not just trash, not just about cleaning up, we want the neighbors to come out and talk with the kids,” Nash said. “It’s a good community service project for them to do and with them cleaning up, they may think twice about dumping trash.”

Hutt said the exercise was about punishing the teens for their crimes, but also about giving back to the community. They are out cleaning up rather than being held in juvenile detention.

Hutt went to law school to work with juvenile offenders, but began prosecuting adults until she decided to take over the community court program.

“The adult system is about punishment,” she said. “With juveniles we are able to rehabilitate them. I believe strongly in the concept of accountably for these kids. They live up to what people expect of them. We are giving them a goal to rise up to.

“Instead of just punishment, we give them a sense of personal satisfaction.”