A teen involved in the shooting death of a five-year-old boy on a troubled central Alberta reserve in 2011 will be sentenced by a panel of his peers this week.

"Participating in the panel is acknowledging responsibility and there’s a sense of penitence," said youth worker and Youth Restorative Action Project  advisor Mark Cherrington who helped start the sentencing program a decade ago.

"They want to pay back," he said. "They’re open to all sorts of consequences."


Ethan Yellowbird, 5, was shot in the head while he was sleeping in his father's house. (Supplied)

The teen, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter late last year, was one of three who shot at a Hobbema home where Ethan Yellowbird was sleeping in July 2011.

Yellowbird was killed in the shooting, which police determined was gang-related.

The teen has chosen to be sentenced by a panel of young people between the ages of 14 and 24.

Not a get-out-of-jail-free card

The program is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, Cherrington said.

"It’s been our experience the sentences are in line with what young people would get in court or, in fact, even more severe."

Often an offender's history is what makes their cases a challenge when it comes to sentencing, YRAP coordinator Kate Andress said.

"The referrals we receive are for youth facing a lot of social barriers — poverty, addictions, children in care, various types of sexual exploitation, gang involvement," she said.

The young people who volunteer to help in the sentencing often come from the same background.

"When we have volunteers with dysfunctional backgrounds,  I find they’re able to get a lot more information from that youth from being like 'You know what? I was in that group home. My father was also in rehab.'

"You forge that bond. You’re able to make better conditions that way."

It's rare for a young person to decide not to abide by the panel's recommendations, happening only once in her three years with the program, said  Andress.

The teen's panel will include three adults, however —  an elder, a social worker and Cherrington.

And while the victims of the crime  often participate in the sentencing, it won't happen directly this time.

"Though the victim’s family did not want to participate, the (family member) I spoke with did have a long phone conversation with me and talked about what she would like to see happen," said Andress.

The panel also won permission from Ethan's family to read their victim impact statements.

Once the panel arrives at an appropriate sentence, it must be still be approved by a judge.

With files from CBC's James Hees