Students get eye-opening lesson in Street Law class

A number of students at Glenn Hills High School say they all know someone who has been in jail, but through a program being tested at the school, they are less likely to end up there themselves.

Street Law, a class organized by Assistant District Attorney Inga Hicks, has been exposing students to area legal professionals in hopes that they learn about the law in the classroom rather than in the courtroom.

About 35 students found themselves sitting in front of a judge Thursday.

Juvenile Court Judge Ben Allen, with others from the judicial system, spoke about the importance of making good decisions and the consequences if you don't.

Many students said they didn't realize that just hanging out with the wrong people can land a person behind bars for decades.

The "I ain't doing nothing" line doesn't work, Judge Allen said. If you're in a friend's car and marijuana is in the glove compartment, you both get arrested.

"Be careful of who you associate with," he said. "The law is unforgiving."

Some students, however, said it's hard to give up a longtime friend.

Jerel Stephenson, 18, said he would give more thought to his actions now.

Especially "scary," he said, were the consequences of being found guilty of sodomy, which many students didn't realize includes oral sex.

The students learned what comes with bad choices.

Elliott Bing, a case expediter for the Department of Juvenile Justice, told of two 15-year-olds who on Wednesday were taken from the Augusta Regional Youth Detention Center and brought to prison. They were sentenced to 20-year terms in connection with an armed robbery at Zaxby's.

"They are going to spend as long in prison as they have been alive," Mr. Bing told the students.

About half the teens at the detention center for armed robbery are there because they were with the wrong people, Mr. Bing said.

Teens are also locked up for what might be considered less serious offenses, said Rodney Brown, a Columbia County juvenile court intake officer. For instance, a pat on a classmate's behind is sexual battery, and no one younger than 16 can give consent to have sex, he said.

"The little things will get you into trouble," student Ebony Usry said.

Ms. Hicks is working to expand Street Law to other Richmond County schools.

"They often hear this mantra that knowledge is power," said William Dunbar, who teaches the class. "This is the stuff that isn't taught to them, which is why they learn it the wrong way."

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.