Community youth advocates are seeking a teen court in Ohio County

WHEELING — Community youth advocates are seeking a teen court program for Ohio County, and they are suggesting a $5 increase in court costs to fund the initiative.

Martha Polinsky, project coordinator with the Community Impact Coalition; Brooke County Magistrate Robin Snyder; and Claudia Raymer, executive director of the Ohio County Family Resource Network addressed Ohio County commissioners this week with their suggestion for a teen court.

A similar program already has been established in Brooke County, and it has received the blessing of circuit judges David Sims and Michael Olejasz so long as it abides by West Virginia code, according to Polinsky.

Children ages 18 and under would be eligible for the program if the crime they commit is their first offense, she said. Successful participation in the program would permit the child to expunge his or her record, while avoiding payment of a fine. Juvenile probation officers would suggest youths for the program.

“It’s an alternative for low-level, first-time offenders,” Polinsky explained. “The ideal candidate is one who has never been in trouble prior.”

Teens agree to abide by the court’s ruling and sentencing, which typically involve community service, a letter of apology, or an education program, she said. Other teens would serve as jury, and as prosecutor and defender.

The program, as established in state code, must be overseen by “an active member of the West Virginia Bar Association,” Polinsky said.

There would be a volunteer roster of attorneys, many of whom have already volunteered, she said.

Often the youths who go before a teen court have committed a crime pertaining to having a tobacco product in school. In a traditional court, youth can receive up to a $50 fine and eight hours community service for this charge, according to Snyder.

Court costs, meanwhile, are presently $160.25 in Ohio County. Polinsky, Snyder and Raymer requested Ohio County commissioners raise the cost $5 to $165.25 to pay for the program. The commissioners said they would take the matter under advisement.

(King can be contacted at jking@theintelligencer.net)

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