New Youth Court Members Take Oath

OSWEGO, NY – The ranks of Oswego County’s Youth Court swelled recently by a baker’s dozen.
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Leah Smith is congratulated by Legislator Paul Santore. In background is Legislator Jack Proud.

Family Court Judge David Roman administered the oath at the Oswego County Courthouse as members of their families looked on, many of them taking photographs.

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.

It’s is a national program that is about 35 years old.

Oswego’s is the second oldest program in New York State of New York, explained Kathleen Fenlon, executive director of the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau.

The program gives young offenders who stay out of trouble “a fresh start,” she said.

It costs about $90,000 a year to send one young person to residential treatment; the cost of the Youth Court program is far less expensive, she pointed out.

Youth Court handles about 50 cases a year, Fenlon said. It teaches young people a lot about fairness, she added.

“I go to work with a smile on my face every day because of the great work these kids do,” she said

Several court members held a mock trial to show the public what takes place at a Youth Court session.

The youth who were sworn in are:

Rachael Chetney, Steven Coffey, Joshua Costo, Nicholas Costo, Wesley Ihlow, Tom Mather, Elizabeth Morley, Mara Parker, Leah Smith, Hailey Thompson, and Ashley Welsch all of Oswego; and Casey Fraser of Fulton, and MacKenzie Myers of Mexico.

Congratulating the new members were Oswego County Attorney Richard Mitchell, Legislator Jack Proud and Oswego City Police Youth Officer Susan Coffey.

“Not every case that is heard results in a guilty conviction. There are two sides to every story and your obligation is to ensure justice is done,” Mitchell pointed out.

Judge Roman cited the positive work being done by the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau, and he addressed the class after the swearing in ceremony.

Day in and day out he deals with a host of problems concerning youth in the Family Court system, he told the group.

“It is so much more enjoyable to recognize young people of our community for jobs well done,” he said.

In court, he works with the offenders and their families in an effort to rehabilitate them, he explained. If they can learn from their mistakes, move forward and become a better person with a record of accomplishment then “there is nothing wrong with having made a mistake if you learn from it,” he said.

Besides the financial savings, Youth Court also saves time, he said. It saves his office time as well as the time the defendants’ parents have to take off from work and the time police officers have to take off to come in and testify, he pointed out.

New members of the Oswego County Youth Court program take the oath.
New members of the Oswego County Youth Court program take the oath.

“Youth Court is a very useful and valuable service,” he said. “It keeps kids from ending up in the juvenile justice system.”

Some times, appearing before a court of their peers has more of an impact on the offenders than if they went to Family Court, he added.

Roman congratulated the graduating class of Youth Court members and wished them good luck.

Fenlon said the Youth Court ceremony was sad because they were saying goodbye to many members who had been with the program for several years. It was also a happy occasion as they were welcoming so many new faces, she added.

Good kids often get overlooked, Roman pointed out. In his job, he said he sees many youth who have gotten into trouble by making bad choices.

“You have made a good choice,” he told the Youth Court members.

Their parents have done a good job raising them, he continued.

“You’ve done a great job raising these kids,” he said. “This is the cream of the crop. These are the kids that are going to make something of themselves. They are a very proud reflection on you.”

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.

“Anything greater than a misdemeanor cannot be given to us,” he added.

Hearings are conducted and punishments are imposed.

In the Youth Court process, there are a variety of sentences that can be imposed; the most common include community service, writing letters of apology and restitution.

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.

The purpose of the sentence is to deter the defendants from committing further crimes.

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 and schools.

If someone decides they don’t want to go through Youth Court, their case is kicked back to the arresting officer and then Family Court.

For more information on the program, call the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau at 349-3451 or 1-800-596-3200 ext. 3451.