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Ingham County creates specialty court for juvenile weapons offenses

Multiple officials sit at a table with nametags in front of them.
Arjun Thakkar
Rosemarie Aquilina (center) says the new court will help juveniles navigate the justice system without turning to violence.

Officials in Ingham County are creating a special court to support juveniles who are charged with a weapons-related offense.

The program, which officials are calling a "weapons court," is meant to provide early intervention for youth facing certain charges involving a firearm or other weapons. Those charges include: unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon, carrying with unlawful intent, brandishing a firearm in public and not complying with a weapons-free zone.

Participants are expected to have frequent contact with judges and law enforcement while receiving mentorship and mental health support.

At a press conference held Wednesday in the Veterans Memorial Courthouse, Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said the new court will help juveniles navigate the justice system without turning to violence.

“If we just punish people, they get angry," Aquilina said. "When we look at rehabilitation, we see change. We take their life and we put it on a whole different trajectory.”

Though the specialty court is designed to address incidents involving any weapon, officials said the program would also work to reduce gun violence.

Ingham County Prosecutor John Dewane said he’s seen an increase in juveniles carrying illegal guns and more violations of the state’s concealed carry law.

“We all have a role in changing this disturbing behavior among our youth," Dewane said. "I'm confident that the specialty court will reduce that number of youth carrying or possessing guns illegally, which will make our community safer and save lives.”

The program is also offering youth an opportunity to gain professional experience through a collaboration with the Mikey23 Foundation, an organization that teaches youth skilled trades and works to prevent gun violence.

Michael McKissic, the group's founder, said the initiative could teach young people more safe habits.

"Instead of picking up a gun to commit gun violence, pick up a hammer and build up your community," McKissic said.

Aquilina said she was inspired to create the specialty court after looking at similar programs across the country. She added Ingham County's program is unique for focusing on juveniles and having accountability measures.

"If you catch another weapons charge, you're out," she said.

The weapons court will enroll 20 youth who are navigating first-time offenses and is expected to begin next week. The initiative is backed by existing county funding allocated for juvenile justice programs.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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