OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Nearly two dozen teens from across the county are currently undergoing training in hopes of joining the ranks of Oswego County’s Youth Court.
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.
Fenlon was one of the guest speakers this week. Others included Family Court Judge Kim Seager, Oswego City Police Youth
Officer Susan Coffey, Oswego County Legislator Paul Santore and a representative of the Oswego County Attorney’s Office.
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.
Youth Court handles about 50 cases a year. It teaches young people a lot about fairness.
Besides the financial savings, Youth Court also saves time, court officials said.
It saves time in Family Court 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, they pointed out.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This program provides valuable experience for its members,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Dawn Metott, city youth coordinator for the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau. Ã¢â‚¬Å“In addition to the benefit of helping their communities and influencing their peers in a positive way, members of Youth Court will learn or improve their public speaking, interviewing and writing skills.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Andrew Emmons of Central Square said he found out about the Youth Court program when he participated in the recent Youth Government Day at the County Legislature.
His legislator, Jim Bryant, mentioned the program to him and he was interested.
“We talked a lot about government and everything. He mentioned this program, and my mom found a pamphlet about Youth Court and I decided to see what it’s all about,” he explained.
He hopes to pursue a career in law enforcement.
“I want to work with the FBI when I get older,” he noted.
Sandy Heneka of Mexico found out about Youth Court from a family member and her councilor at school.
She said she is interested in all facets of the program, defense and prosecution.
“I’d like to get a job somewhere in law enforcement, too. That’s what I want to do for my career,” she said. “I’m not sure what I want to do; it’s all interesting. I have time to figure things out. That’s why this program is such a good experience.”
Korrinne Newman of Phoenix participated in the Oswego County Mock Trial Program earlier this spring.
“I’m actually going to the (Mock Trial) camp next week. I’m very excited!” she said.
She said she really likes the Youth Court experience.
“I think I want to do the prosecution mostly. I like it a lot,” she said. “Youth Court isn’t a fact-finding court; it’s just deciding the punishment.”
The defense advocates what is best or the defendant and the prosecution represents what is best for the community, Metott pointed out.
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.
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, Chetney explained.
“Anything greater than a misdemeanor cannot be given to us,” he added.
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 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.
Santore said he believes the defendants take the Youth Court decision seriously because it’s not coming from “an adult who doesn’t understand.”
“You’re the ones making the decision. You understand the peer pressures and everything else teens are dealing with,” he told the trainees.
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.