By Julia Merulla
Juvenile offenders, watch out. There’s a new group of people in town prepared to enforce the law.
Sure, they’re kids themselves, but they’ve spent hours training and are prepared to hand down some real sanctions.
The four local residents – Autumn Finch of Warsaw, Joel Hulme of Warsaw, Riley Humberstone of Perry and Kristy Mell of Attica – graduated from their Wyoming County Youth Court training Dec. 18 during a ceremony at the Wyoming County Court House in Warsaw.
As part of Youth Court, they will take on different roles in the courtroom, hearing real cases involving juvenile offenders in Wyoming County. Then, they come up consequences for the transgressions.
If the offenders admit wrongdoing – such as petit larceny, fighting and bullying – and go through the youth court system, they avoid having a criminal record.
“They get that one chance to do right and to do well,” said Andrea Aldinger, director of the county’s Aging and Youth bureau.
The goal is to stop youth from going down the wrong path early in life, said family court judge Hon. Michael F. Griffith.
He told the graduates, “You are kind of like the keepers of the gate, in the sense that if you can help straighten out somebody’s life at an earlier stage, we find that that’s the time to catch them.”
The program’s success is measurable: Those in charge of Youth Court said that over 90 percent of the offenders seen in Youth Court do not come back – and that number has been as high as 98 or 99 percent.
Following opening remarks, the new Youth Court members raised their right hand and took their oath of office, vowing to uphold the constitution of the state and nation. Then, with the help of previous graduates, they acted out a mock trial.