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Portage juvenile court offers new diversion program

In August, the Portage County Juvenile Court joined hands with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and The Ohio State University Portage County Extension Office to unveil a new diversion program for teens charged with traffic violations. Pictured here from the left are Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Charles Hoskin, Lenny Sorboro, director of youth rehabilitation at Portage County Juvenile Court, Portage County Juvenile/Probate Court Judge Robert Berger and Jeanie Stenson from The Ohio State University Portage County Extension Office. (Photo courtesy of the Portage County Juvenile Court).

Legal News Reporter

Published: September 21, 2018

A teenager receives a citation for speeding or a similar offense, the teen or a parent pays the fine and points are assessed on the juvenile’s driver’s license. That’s the typical way that traffic offenses play out in court, said Portage County Juvenile/Probate Court Judge Robert Berger.

“The trouble with that formula is that the teenager does not learn from the experience and the person who is really penalized is the parent, who will likely see insurance rates go up,” said Judge Berger.

But now juveniles in Portage County who commit moving violations may have the option of participating in a new diversion program, which seeks to educate them about traffic and vehicular safety.

In August, the court joined hands with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and The Ohio State University Portage County Extension Office to unveil the county’s 4-H CARTEENS (Caution And Responsibility Teens) Program, which provides an alternative to the traditional court process for some teen traffic offenders.

Under the new Portage County Juvenile Court Diversion Program first-time teen offenders charged with waiverable traffic offenses (such as speeding or stop sign violations) and in some cases non-waiverable violations, can attend a two-hour CARTEENS class, which addresses topics ranging from seat belt safety and reckless operation of a vehicle to driving under the influence and distracted driving.

If the juvenile successfully completes the class and does not incur another violation for six months, the citation is dismissed and no points are added to the teen’s license.

“The true beauty of the program here is that we require the teen to attend the class with a parent, which makes the experience more real,” said Judge Berger.

While the participant must pay any court costs associated with the violation, Lenny Sorboro, director of youth rehabilitation at the court, said the CARTEENS class is free.

“In Portage County, the court has set aside $4,500 of RECLAIM Ohio subsidy funding to offset the $30 participation fee,” said Sorboro.

The first CARTEENS class in Portage County took place on Aug. 8 in Ravenna and included four students, but the judge said he expects the number of participants to increase as more people find out about the program.

The Ohio State University Extension 4-H Youth Development Program CARTEENS first began in Brown County in 1987. It now operates in over 55 counties in Ohio as well as in several other states.

In Portage County Ashley Hughey serves as the 4-H extension educator, running the CARTEENS program and training adult and teen volunteers to assist her in teaching the classes.

“Our program is two hours long and includes multiple components,” said Hughey. “We begin with an introduction followed by a game we call ‘Driving with Dory’ or ‘Distract A Match.’

“It’s kind of like a puzzle and we keep adding layers to it to demonstrate what happens when you get distracted.”

Afterwards the class is broken into two sections: One group is outfitted with intoxication goggles to demonstrate the effect drinking has on driving ability, the other one participates in a simulated driving game.

“The groups do both exercises, which are very involved,” said Hughey. “We have different intoxication goggles that simulate various circumstances like night driving. The teens are asked to walk a straight line, catch a ball and perform other functions.

“The driving simulator is like a video game and is designed to show them what happens when they are distracted,” she said. “If they do anything wrong, we take them through the whole process of going to court, being processed and later trying to get a job with a violation on their record.”

The class also deals with seat belt use, understanding traffic laws and recognizing and reacting to traffic signs and signals.

It concludes with a series of YouTube videos that feature families who lost loved ones due to another person’s distracted driving and/or driving under the influence.

Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Charles Hoskin helped start the Portage County program and now assists with its operation as well as teaching the class.

“I used to work in Mahoning County, which has a similar program,” said Hoskin. “I helped teach it there. I volunteer my time because I think it is a great program.

“I begin the program by going around the room and asking each person what led to them being here,” said Hoskin. “I think when the teens participate in the exercises and see how their driving is affected it really makes them think twice the next time they are on the road.

“The YouTube videos are very impactful because the teens learn about real life instances in which families have been devastated because of mistakes on the road, like texting and driving.”

As of late August, there were 377 traffic filings in Portage County Juvenile Court.

“We are hoping the program helps lower the overall number of violations each year,” said Sorboro

The next CARTEENS class is scheduled to take place on Oct. 17. For more information about the program, log on to (www.portage.osu.edu).