Mission / Objective
The Kids Court program serves 5th and 6th grade elementary students throughout the Truckee meadows. The students are provided with a script and their parents receive subpoena invitations to attend the trial. The students take over the courtroom and play all the parts of a real trial, including: judge, lawyers, jurors, court reporters, witness and bailiffs. The jurors deliberate to reach a verdict.
Upon completion of the trial, the students put away their costumes, and two inmates are brought into the courtroom to share their stories of the choices they have made that brought them into the criminal justice system. They answer the students’ questions about decision-making and what drove them to join gangs, to use drugs, to drop out of school, and what they would do differently if they could go back in time.
The students learn about both the criminal and civil aspects of the American justice system. They also visit with Judges who answer their questions about the judicial process.
About / History
Judge Berry created the Kids' Court/Ask an Inmate program in 1994 as a special field trip for fifth grade elementary school students. In the years that have followed, students from all over the Truckee Meadows have visited Judge Berry's courtroom to participate in a mock trial, entitled B.B.Wolf v. Curley Pig. Kids Court is a scripted mock trial held in the courtroom.
Students, parents, and teachers consistently report that Kids' Court/Ask an Inmate is one of their favorite and most valuable learning experiences. Since its inception in 1994, more than 150 (approximately 5,000 students and parents) elementary school classes have attended this program.
Upon the student’s arrival in the courtroom, Judge Pearson greets the class and engages them in a lively discussion about the trial and the American Judicial system. He discusses the importance of each person in the courtroom and describes how each contributes in his/her unique way. He then describes the “Ask an Inmate” portion of the program and encourages students and parents alike to engage in this “question and answer” segment.
In the “Kids’ Court” portion of the program, students participate in a mock trial of BB Wolf vs. Curly Pig. Prior to attending the field trip, the classroom teacher assigns roles to the students. (It is important for the students to practice their roles prior to the field trip date). Those not playing a specific role serve as the jury and participate in the discussion of a verdict. Role-specific costumes are provided for the students playing identified roles and the jurors are provided capes, funny noses, silly hats, glasses, etc. The “trial” is held in a courtroom and parents are welcome and encouraged to attend. The students sit where the actual parties would sit if it were a real trial. Upon conclusion of the trial and closing arguments, the jury retires to the jury room for deliberations lead by Reno Justice Court Staff. Upon reaching a verdict, they return to the courtroom to announce their verdict (i.e., whether they find in favor of the wolf or the pig).
Ask an Inmate
The “Ask an Inmate” portion is administered by the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department. The Washoe County Sheriff’s Department screens and selects the inmates from criteria established by Judge Pearson and the Sheriff’s Deputies who moderate the program. (Please see the document titled “Inmate Selection Protocols” for detailed information regarding the inmate selection process.)
Upon completion of the mock trial, the costumes are put away and inmates who are carefully screened at the Washoe County Jail are brought into the courtroom for the “Ask an Inmate” portion of the program. The Reno Justice Court has partnered with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department, the Reno Police Department and the Reno Justice Court Bailiff’s to lead a discussion with the inmates who describe the conditions in jail and the decisions they made which led them to be incarcerated. The description of life in jail is often humorous and may include one of the following scenarios: (1) discussion of the size of jail cells and lack of privacy, followed by the comment that inmates have beans for dinner on Thursdays; (2) the fact that inmates share underwear; or (3) the horrible food, including a description of “cat food sandwiches”. The students are captivated by the often frank descriptions of life behind bars.
The discussion then takes on a serious nature as the inmates share with students their life stories about the wrong choices they made that brought them into the criminal justice system. The goals of the program are: (1) to teach students about the importance of education and making good decisions; (2) to review the consequences of peer pressure and gang involvement; and (3) to review the dangers of drug and alcohol use.
What The Inmates May Say to the Students
“I became addicted to heroin in prison.”
“I lost everything...my whole life.”
“Most everything I know now, today, I learned while I was in prison.”
“The first time I used drugs was in prison. They are so plentiful there. You know, you're there and you are angry.”
“When you misbehave in prison, you are put in solitary confinement and fed nutra-loaf.”
“Being a part of the (Kids' Court/Ask an Inmate) program was one of the only times in my life where I could turn the negatives of my criminal ways into a positive.”
“I will say my criminal life has been extensive and in all of my life I have never witnessed a program (Kids' Court/Ask an Inmate) that I felt was as impressive as this one.”
Upon the student’s arrival in the courtroom, Judge Pearson greets the class and engages them in a lively discussion about the trial and the American Judicial system. He discusses the importance of each person in the courtroom and describes how each contributes in their unique way. He then describes the “Ask an Inmate” portion of the program and encourages students and parents alike to engage in this “question and answer” segment.