Benefits - Youth
- Oneida County Youth Court has served over 100 youth since the program took off. Our measurable youth served population is broken down into two categories as we examine a 13-month case study.
- This case study ranges from April 2004 to April 2005. This is appropriate as the Director took over this position in mid-October, 2003.
- The first several months of the program were dedicated to researching the program and its surrounding concepts as well as successful policies and approaches. The director also focused on developing an action plan, which focused on regions of development, key contacts in those areas as well as structural components of each particular region.
- It was in April of 2004 that the program heard it's first case. And this 13-month case study represents a basic starting point for program expectations. While this period provides a valuable starting point and first look, it should also be noted that these are minimal standards for a program designed to expand over time. For example, the number of cases heard over the first three months should most likely be smaller than the number heard over the next six months (which is true). We attribute this to the fact that referral agencies gain familiarity with the youth court program, ultimately developing a sense of trust and a working relationship that inevitably leads to more cases.
- Youth Offenders benefit from peer justice, attention and fair sentences. Our "youth offenders" are the defendants referred into the program. From April 2004-April 2005, 18 cases were heard total. Ten cases were heard in Camden, five cases were heard in Rome and three cases were heard in Utica.
- Each offender received a case-specific disposition, directly proportional to the defendant's offense, school history and overall attitude (which includes court conduct, perceived remorse for the offense committed and sincerity in avoiding similar behavior in the future). Also, each case involved some type of sentence.
- One of the primary reasons that youth court programs are so well received by prosecutors and judges and law enforcement is the assurance of a certain minimum response to each case. They realize, as do our offenders, that each crime and case referred to youth court is met with some type of punishment.
- Our first 18 cases included commonly used options regarding offenses due to the infancy of the program, more specifically the hesitance among volunteers to dispense creative and new sentences. The established sentences include community service, jury duty, letters of apology, jail tours, essays and mentoring.
- The purpose of community service is to place juvenile offenders in a monitored site for a variety of reasons. One is to show offenders that positive contributions can be made to the community, as opposed to negative ones. Next, we try to have offenders reflect on their actions as they participate in some type of labor (which very few offenders have ever engaged in). Finally, we strive to create a direct link between the offender and the community, thereby discouraging the offender to harm a project site that he or she has contributed to (by cleaning, painting, etc.) and the community in general (which he or she now feels part of).
- The purpose of jury duty is to bring offenders back to the courtroom, on the positive side of the law. Ideally, this will accomplish a number of goals.
- First, we try to instill in them a sense of fairness about the youth court process and their case in particular. Also, they are more likely to respect their own sentence if they partake in dispensing a sentence to another offender. Additionally, this allows offenders to reflect on their actions from a juror's standpoint as they think about how they relate to the new offender.
- Youth Court volunteers are the student volunteers that compose each court.
- •From April 2003-April 2004, 109 youth court volunteers were served through training and cases. 26 youth were served in Camden, 23 in Rome, 40 in Utica and 20 in Waterville.
- The youth court volunteers are served in multiple ways. They are part of an organization that appeals to colleges and employers, act as positive role models to their peers, earn accredited community service hours for school or church organizations and many participate in valuable training.
- Many college admissions have shifted from favoring students involved in many organizations to students that have devoted significant amounts of time to several organizations. Also, colleges and employers look favorably on a volunteer that has demonstrated the leadership and responsibility that youth court requires one to possess / develop and the ability to be creative, respond on one’s feet and use/enhance public speaking skills.
- Many youth are simply offended by the negative connotations that come with being a “teen,” “kid” or “adolescent.” Youth are often grouped in with those seen as lazy, apathetic or disrespectful. This provides them an excellent chance to show off their skills, civic commitment and care for peers. Youth Volunteers are able to serve as mentors to offenders, providing them guidance and serving as a positive peer role model. They engage in POSITIVE peer pressure.
- Volunteers can also earn accredited community service hours for school or church organizations such as National Honor Society, Senior Year Government and Catholic Confirmation.
- Those wishing to act as judge, prosecution, defense, clerk/bailiff or jury foreperson must complete an extensive (25 hours) but valuable training process. During the training, volunteers must complete a 68-page manual, which includes an extensive overview of the legal system and court procedures. Volunteers hear from a plethora of speakers, providing volunteers with professional advice and training that crosses a broad set of careers. Speakers have included: Oneida County Assistant District Attorney, Oneida County Assistant Public Defender, Oneida County Supreme Court Clerk, Oneida County Sheriff’s Deputies, Oneida County Family Court Judges, Oneida County Probation Deputy Director, Oneida County Probation Officer, Oneida County Supreme Court Clerk, New York State Troopers, New York State Corrections Officer, Town of Camden Justice/Town of Sangerfield Justice, Camden Police Chief, Utica City Court Judge, Utica Police Officer, Rome Police Lieutenant, Rome City Court Judge, Thomas R. Proctor High School Principal/Staley Middle School Assistant Principal and an Insight House Counselor.
- Volunteers also participate in a series of “mock trials,” which consist of fictional cases, defendants and witnesses created by the director. This tests the volunteers’ creative and judicial minds as they experience their first opening statements, cross-examinations, final statements and jury deliberations. It also provides volunteers the opportunity to enhance their public speaking skills. Finally, it serves to educate the volunteers on proper court procedures and etiquette. Last, volunteers take and pass a “mini bar exam,” which is an exam written by the director consisting of (50%) training manual material and (50%) information covered by speakers. This bar exam, while not difficult to pass if volunteers attend training sessions, ensures that volunteers do in fact attend training sessions and read the training manual.
- The above included measurable youth served, but there is also the strong chance that we reach more youth, youth that we cannot put into numbers such as:
- The friends and peers of youth court offenders and volunteers who spread the word about the seriousness of youth court and the consequences that one may have to face if they end up in front of youth court.
In the short time that the director has interacted with youth court volunteers, he has come across countless tremendous volunteers that exhibited incredible growth and potential that not only serves the program, but the volunteers and our society down the road as they will continue to make wonderful contributions
Thadeous Larkin, Camden
Thadeous Larkin remains one of the most enthusiastic and intelligent volunteers our program has witnessed. At first glance, “Thad” appeared imposing with his alternative wardrobe and dyed hair. But anyone intimidated or turned away by that is missing out on one of the friendliest individuals one can hope to meet. When the director first asked Thad what he wanted to do with his life, he responded, “Go to college, go to law school, join the Navy, enter the JAG core and run for the U.S. Senate.” He possesses the intellect and determination to do just that. Thad used his youth court education to serve him well as he just completed his Freshman year at “Washington & Lee” in Virginia. With a 3.4 GPA, Thad intends to major in American Studies and is home for the summer, working with the youth court program.
Denis Zalic, Utica
When asked on his “Youth Court Application,” what his friends or relatives may say he needs to improve upon, Denis Zalic responded by writing, “I take things too seriously.” Thankfully for the Youth Court program, Denis is extremely serious about his role as judge at Proctor’s youth court. True to his application, Denis is serious and quiet in most situations. He displays an incredible work ethic that he brought with him from Bosnia in 1996. The director even has the pleasure of seeing Denis once a week as he volunteers in the office. The youth court program has transformed Denis in an encouraging manner as he improved his public speaking and became more comfortable with his peers. He now jokes and smiles much more than when he first joined the program, in and out of the courtroom. Oneida County Youth Court hopes to keep Denis involved in the program as he enters Utica College as a freshman next fall as he hopes to someday attend law school.
Kelly D’Ambrosio, Rome
Another great example of a great young person that dresses the part of alternative, Kelly D’Ambrosio is also one of the kindest individuals one will meet. Kelly quickly gained both the respect of her peers and the wisdom of court conduct that molded her into a great judge for Rome’s youth court. Kelly is always the first to volunteer and last to leave when a task needs completed. Her dedication and good spirit will serve her well as she travels to Kewka College in Pennsylvania to major in Criminology and Forensic Science.