COLONIE: Making amends

Javier Martinez, 18, still holds the record for community hours served, 302.

Martinez stands out in the crowd of Colonie teens who have been through the town's Youth Court. He is the only one to appear on both sides of the gavel.

On Tuesday, June 6, Colonie's Youth Court, a system started 14 years ago to handle minor, non-violent, first-time offenders, celebrated its annual Membership Appreciation Day.

The annual event allows court members, both past and present, to reflect on their services in the system over some food, drink and music.

The members, ages 12 to 18, met with town leaders and court employees to commemorate the 1,000th case that is expected to be heard later this summer. The achievement is above and beyond what Youth Court founders first anticipated when they started the program.

People were frustrated that some of the minor things weren't being handled in the court system, said Patrice Schwarz-Lockart, one of the founders of Youth Court and a victim specialist for the Colonie Police Department. "Now these kids (offenders) get into the court in two weeks. They are able to take responsibility for their actions, and they are judged by their peers."

Youth Court handles an average of four cases per week. The offenses range from vandalism, traffic infractions, alcohol or marijuana possession and shoplifting, she said. Area students under age 18 carry out each role in the sentencing of defendants, from jury to prosecutor, defender, clerk bailiff, jury floor person, victim advocate and judge. No parent or "grown up" is on hand to shadow their proceedings; no adult directs their sentences. It is all done by the offender's peers, often neighborhood friends and fellow students, Schwarz-Lockart said.

"I was arrested in October 2001 for criminal mischief and criminal tampering," said Martinez, who recently completed his first year of criminal justice studies at Hudson Valley Community College.

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