POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Family Resource Network (FRN) created a Teen Court to give second chances for teens who are first time offenders.
“Teen Court is a real court of law,” said FRN director Greg Fowler. “It is for youth that have done a first time misdemeanor. Some of those things can be truancy, tobacco/drugs in school, shoplifting, underage drinking, getting in a fight, destruction of property, something like that.”
Fowler helped to create the teen court around 2007 after studying a similar program in another county in West Virginia. The court takes place privately in the Mason County courtroom and for the most part, it is ran entirely by other teenagers. The adults in the room are the judge, who has to be a practicing attorney, and the teen court coordinator, who was Fowler, but Bree Ramey is taking over. The jury, defense attorney, prosecuting attorney, bailiff and clerk are all teenagers in Mason County.
Students can be practicing attorneys in teen court while they are in high school. Fowler said one of the first teen prosecuting attorneys is now a licensed attorney.
Most of the cases in teen court come from the officers who are in the three county high schools. The officers often write tickets for students who are caught using tobacco or vaping products.
“The object of the system is, number one, our court systems are really overloaded, so the object of teen court is two-fold,” Fowler said. “One is to reduce the case load of the real court. Let the real court take care of business that they need to take care of. And number two, it gives the opportunity to a youth that has a first time offense, to have that taken off their record and give them the opportunity to learn from that.”
Fowler said that the sentencing for teens is community service hours, which vary depending on the offense. In past cases, teens have also been sentenced to a tour of a prison or to write an essay. It is a requirement of teenage defendants to sit on the jury of future teen courts at least twice.
After the teens complete their sentence, the offense is taken off their record, but that is only a one time situation, Fowler said. He added that the average is that 96 percent of youth don’t end up back in the court system after participating in a teen court.
Fowler said that there is no contesting if the defendant is guilty or not when they are in teen court. The court is to determine how they will be sentenced. Fowler added that the jury of teens will deliberate on their own and present the judge with their recommendations.
All teen court cases are closed to the public and the youth participating are required to take an oath to keep the matters private.
If someone is interested in participating in teen court, Fowler said to contact the high school principals.
Kayla Hawthorne is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, extension 1992.