ACE Students Serve as Eyes and Ears for Montgomery County Court

ACE Students

A Juvenile Justice class became volunteer court visitors for people under guardianship from Montgomery County Court at Law 2.

Photo of Richard JordanStudents at Sam Houston State University already are serving and protecting vulnerable populations in Montgomery County.

As part of the Academic Community Engagement (ACE) efforts in the College of Criminal Justice, 46 students enrolled in a Juvenile Justice and Juvenile Delinquency course served as volunteer court visitors to visit wards under guardianships supervised by Montgomery County Court at Law 2. The students were the eyes and ears for the court to ensure people with physical and mental disabilities are not abused, neglected or exploited.

“My favorite part about volunteering for this program was seeing all that the court does for disabled people in Montgomery County and making sure that they're well taken care of,” said CJ Senior Sara Betts. “It allowed us to engage in our community as well as help out the Montgomery County courts and wards of our community. It allowed us to gain insight into everything Judge (Claudia) Laird and her team have done to positively influence and affect the people in our community and the safety of the wards.”

Guardianship is a legal process designed to protect incapacitated individuals who are unable to care for themselves or make financial decisions, such as some minor children or those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, intellectual disabilities, autism, head injuries, injuries related to stroke. There are currently approximately 500 people under guardianship in Montgomery County, and annual visits with all of them would not be possible without the help of volunteers.

“We are so excited that we are able to complete so many cases this year,” said Jacqueline M. Ullom, Court Investigator and Court Visitor Program Supervisor for the court. “In smaller counties, courts are not required to have a court visitor program but Judge Laird felt this monitoring function was necessary to ensure that our wards are being properly cared for by their guardians and caregivers.”

Following training, students visited with wards in private residences and at facilities throughout the area and provided official reports to the court. Two classes at Sam Houston State University, which also included Dr. Karen Manges Douglas’ Race and Ethnic Inequality in the Department of Sociology, were able to complete 300 visits this year. “It’s been wonderful and we hope to continue this partnership for years to come,” Ullom said.

Avery Duncan, a junior with a CJ minor, said the experience has helped him better understand how to interact with people with mental and physical disabilities. Duncan hopes to work in a federal law enforcement position.

“It was an interesting experience,” said Duncan. “It got a lot easier after the first visit.”

The CJ course, taught by Doctoral Teaching Fellow Angela Collins, is one of the ACE courses offered at the College, which requires nine hours of community service during the semester. Each student in the class was assigned three visitations and was required to write about their experience. Several students said they plan to continue volunteering after the semester ends.

“I find a lot of students tell me they know what they want to do with their degree but have very little practical experience,” said Collins. “I want them to actually go out and see what CJ professionals do and how it's not always as black and white as textbooks make it sound. Second, when I was an undergrad, I did service learning for one of my courses. That experience led me to a job working with kids with emotional and behavioral issues, and now juvenile justice and delinquency are one of my research interests. I'm hoping that these experiences might help students learn about potential careers they might enjoy that they would not have known about or thought of before.”

For more information about ACE course opportunities, visit the Center for Community Engagement.

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