At only 15-years-old, Shani Henry already knows as much about legal procedures in juvenile court as her associates aspiring to careers in law.
The teen divides her time away from class between sitting as foreman on the Peer Jury, a program offered by the 15th District Police, and planning out her career as a member of the district’s Explorer Scout Post.
“On the peer jury, we hear real cases of minor crimes committed by area youths, and have to decide on an appropriate sentence,” said Henry, who lives in Austin. “The cases we see are ones where the teens have been found guilty, have only committed their first or second offense, and it has to be a misdemeanor.”
The jury meets on the last Saturday of every month with the exception of Christmas in December.
Henry calls the trial to order. She’s also responsible for reading the juvenile his/her rights, hearing the details of the incident, and, along with jury peers, handing down an appropriate penalty.
“We may decide to give them community service,” Henry said, “or if there were narcotics involved, we may sentence them to seeing a specialist at Heartgrove (a drug treatment and evaluation facility affiliated with the police station).”
The peer jury and explorers are overseen by 15th Dist. CAPS Officer Carla Johnson.
Johnson used to work with Henry’s mother Silvia, who also worked in law enforcement, years ago.
However, Johnson did not know that Shani was her daughter when she first met her three years ago while teaching a DARE program at Howe Elementary School, 720 N. Lorel, Shani’s school at the time.
“I didn’t know who she was until after she inquired about the explorers,” said Johnson. “Her older brother was also a member of explorers and the peer jury, and he encouraged her to get involved in them. She has really excelled at both.”
Since becoming involved with the two programs, Henry has worked in several capacities, including organizing the station’s annual haunted house on Halloween, and taking part in last year’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the station.
“In the beginning, she was really shy and didn’t speak up that much, but was exceptionally smart, hard-working and had great attendance,” said Johnson. “One day the regular foreman was not able to attend our monthly meeting and Shani stepped up and volunteered to fill in.”
Henry has now taken on the primary duties of foreman of the peer jury. She’s currently a student at Lane Tech Academy studying automotive repair.
As she puts it, “I don’t want to be a helpless female that can’t fix her own car.”
Henry, though, said she does not plan to pursue a career in mechanics or law enforcement. She instead wants to attend either Olympia College to major in Massage Therapy or University of Chicago for business.
“Well, I know my mother and Officer Johnson want me to get into law enforcement as a career but these occupations are the ones I’m most passionate about,” said Henry.
This profile originally ran in the 2007 Austin Community Guide which published in February.