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San Joaquin County
District Attorney's Office

San Joaquin County Teens Take Deep Dive Into How Criminal Justice System Works

Program offered by District Attorney's Office aimed at cultivating future county leaders

Original article written by Melanie Wingo and published 2021-06-02 on the KCRA3 Website

Photo: Youth Leadership AcademySAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, Calif. — San Joaquin County students searching for something to do during summer vacation may want to consider taking a deep dive into the criminal justice system.

A program offered by the District Attorney's Office is inspiring the next generation of San Joaquin County leaders by giving them a chance to explore all facets of the system.

We have probation, parole, bailiff, judge, court reporter, court clerk, district attorney, public defender, defense counsel, family law, substance abuse courts, rehabilitation services," said San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar, listing all the jobs and departments Youth Leadership Academy participants learn about. "It gives an insight into what the criminal justice system is, what it really looks like, not what it's like on television."

Now in its 21st year, the Youth Leadership Academy reaches high school students with experiences, outings or guest speakers that outline how each justice system job plays a role in the way their community works.

Students in the program shared with KCRA how it's inspired them as they look toward the future.

"This program has been life-changing," said YLA participant Nicholas Chavez. "It hasn't just helped me, it's definitely altered the way I see things."

For some, the program has broadened their career aspirations.

"A goal of mine is to work for the United Nations and... make a difference, not just locally, but globally," said YLA participant Gracie Jaime. "This program has just helped me get a direction for where I want to go."

The five-week program also makes an impact on how students process what's going on in their community and beyond.

"Police brutality is such a big issue right now and I think that starting talking about it locally is where the change is gonna happen," Jaime said. "Programs like this where we can get people talking and we can get people to make a change, and just bring awareness to it, is what is so important."

The program also allows students to engage in sometimes difficult, but important conversations with local leaders.

"I think you have to start internally," Chavez said. "That's what we have talked about and that's what a lot of our dialogue in the Youth Leadership Academy has started because we are going to be the leaders of tomorrow."

The DA is quick to highlight all that the students bring to the table. "We need to listen to our youth," Verber Salazar said. "We need to see them and hear them. They're bringing a change like we've never seen before. And they are powerful and they're not afraid to use their voice. What we need to do is to learn how to listen."

Learning at a local level, lessons the district attorney said will apply, no matter where the students end up.

The Youth Leadership Academy accepts about 50 students each session. The next session starts June 14 and runs through July 16. Students from San Joaquin County are encouraged to apply, but the DA's office said it will also consider applicants from outside the county.

"I guarantee you, it will change your children for life," Verber Salazar said about the Youth Leadership Academy. "It will make them more informed, more empowered, and they will strive to continue to create a better world for all of us to live in."


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