TAKING youngsters into court to watch justice unfolding has a dramatic impact on their behaviour, according to a woman who works with some of the most troubled young people in the county.

Students from Meadowbrook College have been visiting Oxford Crown Court regularly over the past year as part of the Getting Court initiative and the Pupil Referral Unit is now reaping the benefits.

The impact has been so stark, according to staff member Cheryl West, that those who were once most at risk of offending and anti-social behaviour are now looking to start careers as lawyers or police officers.

Ms West runs the college's discovery team and they were approached by Getting Court organiser Elizabeth Parker last year about seeing the inner-workings of the legal system.

The college only takes students who have been excluded or are at risk of exclusion from mainstream schools.

"To be honest, if we don’t fix them now they are going to be the bread and butter – sitting in the dock in five years time", Ms West told a reception for the charity last week.

"Sadly, prior to us doing this, we had already seen some of our students sent to prison. If we don’t get to them early, we are going to lose them.

"The impact of it, I cannot tell you. Since we have been taking part in Getting Court, none of our students have been offending.

"Previously they might have been known to the local police officers or been in trouble for anti-social behaviour. Now, we are not hearing of these problems."

A young person is likely to end up at Meadowbrook for any number of reasons.

READ ALSO: New noise cameras will fine drivers with loud cars

Some may have brought a knife or weapon into school either because they wanted to use it or because they were scared of threats received online, according to Ms West.

Possessing drugs are an automatic exclusion, even if the person is caught holding them for a friend, while others simply have trouble behaving, often because of undiagnosed special educational needs.

In court, pupils are forced to confront the choices they have been making and stare bleakly down the path they might be following.

It is the moment after sentencing, according to Ms West, that is the most poignant for many.

She said: "I can say ‘I have two new referrals today. One for a knife and one for fighting.'

"And they will try as best as they can to get us into those cases.

"Once there my pupils can see ‘this is going to be my future. This could be my sentencing’.

"I can’t tell you the impact on a boy of watching someone get led out the door and realising that’s it, they are going to prison.

"They are understanding and seeing the consequences of their actions if they keep going on the same path.

"We have had students come to us who are really disaffected or disengaged and, having been through the process, are saying ‘I want to be a lawyer or a police officer’."

Sessions with Getting Court usually involve a talk from the court clerk on the layout and workings of the courtroom, followed by a chance to sit in on proceedings and question and answer sessions with judges, police officers and lawyers.

Up to three quarters of all the secondary schools in Oxfordshire have so far taken part.

They are offered the chance to go into court at least once every academic year and can choose which students participate - either because they are interested in a future career in the law or may be at risk of bad behaviour.

READ AGAIN: Woman punched in the face during robbery on footpath

Lionel Crowe, the assistant head of Larkmead School in Abingdon, said: "Our students have been taking part for quite a few years now.

"Some have gone along because they are on the edge of being vulnerable and at risk of being in trouble for anti-social behaviour.

"It allows them to see the process and how they could themselves move on to committing more serious offences - it brings that reality home to them.

"One of the key things is when somebody is sentenced and they go through the door at the back of the dock.

"At that point you lose control of your life and your ability to make choices.

"It makes them reflect on where they are in their own lives.

"It also makes them recognise that a lack of education can lead you down the wrong path so they come back with an increased willingness to learn."