Not every 12-year-old chooses to observe a manslaughter trial for fun during summer break.
But for the 11 youths who graduated Thursday from the first “Junior District Attorney” program organized by the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office, the past two weeks have featured field trips to real-life trials and court proceedings, mock crime scenes, the juvenile detention center and meetings with the governor, mayor, police chief and other figures.
The program — inspired by an initiative in Atlanta started by the National Black Prosecutors Association and coordinated by East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Ronald C. Gathe Jr. — aims to educate middle schoolers on the inner workings of the criminal justice system and to open their eyes to different job options.
“I think I wanted to be a police officer,” said Brian Norris, 12, “but it was cool to see that there’s other positions you can do without being in all the bloody, gory stuff.”
Norris, who is entering the seventh grade, said he thought detectives mainly worked for the FBI but now realizes detectives also work at local police agencies, and he’s considering becoming one.
“I like puzzles,” he said. “It’s fun to uncover the pieces.”
The youths, all of whom are entering the seventh or eighth grades, did hands-on activities like collect evidence to solve crimes at faux crime scenes, and they were allowed to pepper elected officials with questions.
They also took an oath to respect their communities, their bodies and authority figures and to strive to enhance their minds and learn something new every day.
“We want these folks to be the face of Baton Rouge,” said East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III, who pinned a medallion on each child’s lapel during a ceremony for parents outside his office Thursday.
Melissa Anders, the mother of one of the program participants, 12-year-old Claiborne Anders, said she’s happy her son has brought home new ideas from the program.
“It provided a dialogue for us to talk about career paths,” she said.
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.