Oneida County has unique approach to juvenile justice systemSubmitted: 09/16/2013
Story By Lauren Stephenson

RHINELANDER - Courtrooms often make us think of traditional procedure and seasoned judges.

But Oneida county has a unique way of dealing with some suspects.

Students from Rhinelander High School and Lakeland Union High School trained to become members of their schools' teen courts Monday.

"Teen court is an alternative for first time offenders ages 10-16 to go through, rather than going through the court process, to go through a process where they meet panelists, their peers," says Oneida County Teen Court coordinator Lynn Feldman.

Those panelists go through a highly selective process.

Not every offender goes in front of the peer court.

It's only in minor cases like shoplifting and vandalism.

Even then it's up to the judge to recommend the case to the peer court.

The offender has the option to then go to teen court or stay in the court system.

The offender must admit to wrongdoing if they choose to have their case taken to teen court.

The panel of their peers then gives them sanctions.

They can range from community service to required tutoring.

The offender's record is wiped clean as long as they complete the sanctions.

This is Amber Sheth's third year on teen court.

She joined it to be able to give back to the community.

"As a part of teen court and restorative justice, is that we help them realize why what they did was wrong, and the impact of their actions upon themselves, their loved ones and the community," she says.

Teen court has made Amber more interested in the legal system.

She's not alone.

The program sparks an interest in a variety of fields.

"Some of these students go on to be part of mock trial. Some students decide to be lawyers, or to go into political science. Others may become counselors, teachers. It doesn't matter where they want to go after school is over with. There is something here that will benefit them," adds Feldman.

Teen court started in Oneida county more than 5 years ago.

It hears more than 30 cases each year.

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