OSWEGO, NY â€“ Twenty students from around the county were sworn in Wednesday night as the newest members of Oswego County’s Youth Court.
Family Court Judge Kim Seager administered the oath at the Oswego County Courthouse as members of the graduates’ families looked on, many of them taking photographs.
They will now become lawyers, judges and other court officials to conduct hearings on young offenders.
Youth Court is a recognized community diversion program aimed at keeping young offenders out of Family Court, according to one of the program’s coordinators, Brian Chetney of the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau. He shares duties with Dawn Metott.
It’s is a national program. Oswego’s is the second oldest program in New York State of New York, Kathleen Fenlon, executive director of the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau, told the large crowd attending the induction ceremony.
“Oswego’s Youth Court has been around since the 1980s,” she said. “It was one of the few such programs in the country.”
Research has shown that youth who go through the Youth Court process “are very unlikely” to be repeat offenders, she pointed out.
The program gives young offenders who stay out of trouble “a fresh start,” she said.
Youth Court handles about 50 cases a year; the court handles cases of youth from age 7 to 15.
Several court members held a mock trial Wednesday to show the public what takes place during a Youth Court session.
The youth who were sworn in and their school districts are:
Oswego – Sean Benjamin, Nick Bonacorsi, Erin Delaney, Sage Dudley, Victoria Frazier, Taylor Giglio, Chelsea Legates, Alanna Maldonado, Matthew McLaughlin, Keegan McSweeney, Maddison Newland, and Tyler Sheffield; Fulton – Lacey Buskey, Vanessa Langdon and Jacob Sereno; Mexico – Kendra Crowe and Joseph Gardner; Hannibal – Joseph Donhauser and Brian Harrington; APW – Cortnay Love.
Congratulating the new members were Oswego County Family Court Judge Seager and Oswego County Legislator Terry Wilbur, a Youth Court alumni.
It brought back some very fond memories, Wilbur said of attending the ceremony.
He congratulated the graduates on passing their bar exam.
“I really appreciate all of your hard work. What you’re doing can help change someone’s life, in a positive way, forever.” he said.
Youth Court can also help them, he told the new members, just as it did him. His time in Youth Court helped him develop some of the leadership skills that he uses as a legislator today, he explained.
Judge Seager cited the positive work being done by the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau, and addressed the class after the swearing in ceremony.
Day in and day out she deals with a host of problems concerning youth in the Family Court system, she told the graduates.
“It is much more enjoyable to recognize young people for jobs well done,” she said.
Youth Court is a very useful and valuable service; it helps reduce the number of cases that come to Family Court, she noted.
“The work you do in Youth Court helps my staff as well strive to deal with the issues facing youth today,” she said. “Without you our job would be much more difficult. Thank you for all your help.”
She urged the new members to be fair and just when examining their cases.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she told them. “Get all the facts you can about each case. You have an opportunity to change someone’s life – for the better!”
The judge told the graduates to “always ask why. Always look to see why this behavior is going on and how you can make that positive change (in the life of a youthful offender).”
She also thanked the new members’ parents.
“You’ve done a great job raising these kids,” she said. “Thank you for sharing them with Youth Court.”
Youth Court isn’t a fact-finding court, according to Chetney.
Youth Court is a system, backed by police, where juvenile offenders who have committed a minor crime and have admitted their guilt are tried by their peers in a court of law, he explained.
Hearings are conducted and punishments are imposed.
Members are trained to become judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors and court clerks. Sixteen members are assigned a case; eight of them are potential substitutes in case someone can’t make it.
Also, if one of the members knows the defendant, a different court member is assigned.
The Youth Court process is strictly confidential.
The goal of Youth Court is to prevent kids from continuing the behavior that got them in trouble in the first place.
The advantages of Youth Court would be that defendants don’t have to pay lawyer fees, there is no record kept on file, and the most punishment they can have is several hours of community service and possibly reparation fees, Chetney said.
Sentences are based on attitude of the defendant, age, outside circumstances, punishment received at home, and what was done to make up for his/her actions, Metott added.
When a defendant reaches the age of 16 (and they’ve stayed out of trouble), the Youth Bureau shreds the court files and the person’s record is clean.
Offenders can come from anywhere in Oswego County.
Referrals come from the New York State Police, Oswego County Sheriff’s Department, City of Oswego Police Department, Oswego County Probation, Fulton City Police Department, Central Square Village Police and all nine school districts.
For more information on the program, call the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau at 349-3451 or 1-800-596-3200 ext. 3451.