Thirteen high school students stood in a small holding tank Friday morning inside the Sacramento County Superior Court. The cell, which is used to hold inmates before attending trials, was dimly lit and bare, outfitted with only two long benches and and a metal toilet.
“As crowded as it is in here with all of you right now is how crowded it sometimes gets,” Deputy Eric Brown, who works with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, told the students. “There’s no privacy.”
The group included just some of the 100 high school students around the county who attended the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office Criminal Justice Shadow Day event. The youth program is in its second year and gives high school students throughout the county a behind-the-scenes look at careers within the criminal justice system.
“This is an opportunity to reach out into the community and teach them what the system is all about,” said District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. “Not just from our perspective, but from all different parts of the criminal justice system.”
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The program is led by the district attorney’s office in coordination with other law enforcement entities in Sacramento county, including the sheriff’s office, the probation department and the public defender’s office. Though 100 students from 43 different schools attended this year’s event, an additional 100 students are already on the program’s wait list for next year, according to Shelly Orio, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office.
“I think it’s an unusual program,” Orio said. “It’s a unique opportunity for (students) to go follow these people in real-life situations.”
Students were divided into small groups based on their interests – such as law enforcement, prosecution, or probation– and followed a mentor who was an expert in each field. Along the way, the high schoolers learned about different career paths and the steps they needed to complete to be hired in different positions.
Jillian Lauderdale, a recent graduate from John F. Kennedy High School who was put into the prosecution group, said that her favorite part of the event was when she attended a preliminary hearing at the Sacramento County Superior Court.
“I’ve always been interested in the law,” said Lauderdale, 18. “It was interesting to see it on TV, but it was different to see it in real life.”
Students also toured the city’s Lorenzo E. Patiño Hall of Justice, which houses the Main Jail. Deputies working in the jail showed the group the visiting booths where family members and friends can come and visit an inmate. Officers also gave a slideshow presentation on how the jail operates and talked about some of the dangers involved with working at the facility, including working with violent prisoners or people with mental health issues.
Deputy Patrick Rowe, who has worked at the Main Jail for 11 years and who reviews inmate releases, encouraged students who are interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement to think ahead.
“You need to start thinking about your decisions if you want to be a cop now, while you’re in high school,” Rowe said. “The decisions you make now can crush your chances before you even get into college.”
Every student at the event was treated to a presentation on crime scene investigation and forensic science, which was led by crime lab director Jill Spriggs and Schubert. The two detailed how forensic evidence was collected and used in a court case to either exonerate or incriminate defendants.
Spriggs, who has 30 years of experience working in forensic science, said that the Sacramento District Attorney’s crime lab is one of four in the state that is directly managed by the DA’s office.
Schubert said she hopes the event better educates students in the community about the criminal justice system and ultimately leads to greater workforce diversity within the field.
“Sacramento is such a diverse community that our goal is that our office reflect the community,” Schubert said. “But we have to reach the youth in our community so that they understand the good work that we do, that they might be interested in some day.”
Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188.