Making better decisions key in addressing juvenile behavior


With help from the Van Zandt County Veterans Memorial aluminum can collection program, VZC Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Sandra Plaster is trying to help juveniles she comes across in her courtroom to make better decisions for their lives.

Plaster held a follow-up hearing Oct. 10 in her courtroom for three juvenile males who were arrested in June and charged with Minors in Possession (MIP) of alcohol.

“I hope you have done all I have asked you to do,” Plaster informed the three juveniles. “If you have not, we are going to have difficulty.”

The VZC Pct. 2 JP’s then showed what she called her “rule book” for MIP’s. “Earlier, you asked me about doing community service,” said Plaster. “For the first penalty, the fine range is $1 to $500. This is Class C misdemeanor. I put all of you under deferral hoping and praying that you have done everything I have asked you to do. This is why we are here today (Oct. 10).”

Plaster then expressed her appreciation to everyone in attendance at the Oct. 10 hearing. “The youth are very important to me,” Plaster said to the audience. “When you are in the position that I am in, you have to go on an inquest and the first one I ever went on involved a 16-year old. Since I have been in office, I have done 33 inquests and 17 of those have been alcohol related. I want to tell these boys that I am glad they are here today instead of in a cemetery. I hope what you have done over the past 90 days has been a learning process and that you can learn to make better choices in the future. This is what it is all about, making better choices.”

The collection of aluminum cans for the VZC Veterans Memorial was discussed by Plaster. “I chose this for your community service,” emphasized the VZC Pct. 2 JP. “There is upkeep involved in keeping the VZC Veterans Memorial looking nice and the cans that are sold help in that effort. I hope that you boys have learned a lesson by taking that MIP course and that you will be making better choices in the future.”

Each one of the three juveniles was requested by Plaster to stand and share what they have learned over the past 90 days that will help them in their futures.

Two of the juveniles were accompanied by their grandparents and the other juvenile was accompanied by his father.

“I have seen a change in all three of you since the first time you were in my courtroom back in July,” Plaster told the three juveniles. “Life is too precious to be thrown away. I believe that you are ready to make better choices in the future.”

Following the hearing, Plaster shared the background of the case against the three juveniles that occurred in June.

“They were all together at a party on June 13 on FM 2909 between Canton and Martins Mill,” recalled Plaster. “One of the other individuals at the party got so drunk that it affected their health. Someone called the cops and that is how the cops got involved. The VZC Sheriff’s Department responded to the call. Some of the individuals at the party got away. The three that were arrested were all from Canton.”

Spring Break, the end of the school year and the Fall Break are times of the year when Plaster sees the majority of the MIP cases in her courtroom.

“All three young men were charged with possession and consumption of alcohol because they had so much of it in their system,” pointed out Plaster. “It all falls under the MIP category.”

Plaster held an initial courtroom hearing for the three juveniles on July 10 and all three were initially fined $567 each, of which $67 had to be paid up front leaving a balance of $500.

“We set up the 90-day deferred which required all three boys to take the MIP class, collect 20 pounds of cans for the VZC Veterans Memorial, write a 10-page essay, five pages about their experience in the MIP class and five pages on where they want to be in the next five years,” emphasized Plaster. “I told them if they did all of that work over the 90-day period, at the end of that deferral, I would drop their fines to $250 each and the charges against them would be removed from their record. On Oct. 10, they turned in everything I asked them to do and they brought their $250. I have seen an attitude change in these three boys over the past 90 days. These kids do seem to care about making better decisions in the future.”

During the Oct. 10 hearing, each of the three juveniles stood before Plaster and turned in their essay, their certificate proving that they had taken the MIP class as well as turn in their $250 fines.

Following the hearing, the juveniles delivered their 20 pounds of aluminum cans each to the VZC Veterans Memorial donation trailer which was set up outside of the VZC Courthouse Annex building.

At the end of the Oct. 10 hearing, VZC Pct. 2 Constable Jesse Ison said, “I can definitely see a difference in the attitudes of these three young men. They are receptive and sincere about wanting to do the right thing and that is encouraging to me. What they are saying, they really believe it.”

Plaster also gave VZC Veterans Memorial Board Treasurer Dan Maucieri an opportunity to speak to the three juveniles.

“I think it is great that they did the essays because when you write an essay, you are really having to think through what you are trying to put down on paper,” said Maucieri. “It makes them reflect about what they have experienced especially in the MIP class. I think it is important that everyone think about what they are wanting to do with their lives. It lets you start dreaming a little bit and setting some goals and that is a great thing. All of you guys can achieve anything you want through working for it. We have to get past these mistakes. Stay on the right track.”

Plaster said following the Oct. 10 hearing that she sat down and read the essays that the three juveniles turned in.

“I read all the essays submitted by the young men and they were all positive,” pointed out Plaster. “They expressed their desire of wanting to have a successful life and to change their lives for the better. After taking the MIP class, they learned a lot about what alcohol does. I was very impressed by what they said in their essays. All three gentlemen pointed out that alcohol was no place for a young person due to the fact that if they continued down that road, their lives would be wasted because it would affect not only their livelihood of having a job and successfully working in the workplace but also their health as well.”

One of the three young men expressed in his letter how impressed he was with how Plaster handled their particular cases in her courtroom.

“He appreciated the fact that I gave them the opportunity to make their sentences deferred to where it would not go on their record and I thought that was outstanding for him to mention that,” said Plaster. “I hope that what I have done for him has affected him and his life from now on. I did not try to throw him away like a bag of trash. When you get a young person to write that down in their essay, that means a lot.”

The three cases that were heard in Plaster’s courtroom Oct. 10 brings the total of juveniles who have participated in the deferred program to nine since she took office late last year.

“All nine have been successful and have done what I have asked them to do,” pointed out Plaster. “The program is working and it is for a good benefit which is helping the VZC Veterans Memorial.”

The juvenile program involving the collection of aluminum cans for the VZC Veterans Memorial began in 2014 when Ronnie Daniell served as the VZC Pct. 2 JP, according to Plaster.

“He visited with Red Montgomery at the VZC Veterans Memorial about doing this program for juveniles,” said Plaster. “Judge Daniell said he wanted to do something with the MIP’s and he bounced the idea off of Red and he was all in favor of it. That meant a lot to Red. Once he started the program, Judge Daniell had as many 27 juveniles in the courtroom that agreed to be involved in the program. We filled up two trailer loads of cans. We heard back from one of the veterans who got very emotional about what we were doing. It meant so much to that veteran that there was a community service program that was helping the veterans. I thought that really stood out. We could have presented other options for these juveniles like working at First Monday but to me, what we are doing is more personal. Each one of the three young people that were in my courtroom Oct. 10 probably have relatives that are or were in the military that have fought or died for our country. The veterans mean something special to me. My husband is a veteran.”

The money raised through the sale of the aluminum cans goes toward the upkeep of the VZC Veterans Memorial in Canton.

“All of us make mistakes and I have sure made plenty in my life time that affected my Mom and Dad,” emphasized Plaster. “The choices we make does affect people and it can change if we go down a different road. One of the three young men in his essay wrote that he will never put another sip of alcohol in his mouth. I don’t believe these young men will forget what they have done. They have all indicated that being involved in the program was a learning experience for them. They had no idea before what the percentage of alcohol and mixed drinks can do to a person but after going through the class, I believe they know now that it can affect their education, their families, and their health. This has been an eye-opener for them and I believe they are now on the right track.”

During the court proceeding Oct. 10, Plaster informed the three juveniles that if they ever needed to come and visit with her that her door was always open for them.

“I told them that they are citizens of Pct. 2 and I am their judge,” pointed out Plaster. “I also told them that not only am I their judge but I want to be their friend. This program is not about punishing someone and putting them in timeout. If this program can sway one person from making a choice that could cost their life, then I feel like I have succeeded in what I am trying to do.”

Maucieri discussed the veterans’ memorial board’s involvement in the VZC Pct. 2 JP’s juvenile program.

“We are really just the beneficiaries of this program,” pointed out Maucieri. “We are not directly involved in the program. The Pct. 2 JP office has been handling that. Judge Daniell started this program. This JP office deserves the recognition they receive for doing this program because it is an important contribution for the veterans’ memorial financially and for our citizens. When we are working hard to help turn youth around, I think that is notable and valuable to our community.”

During the Oct. 10 court hearing, Maucieri shared that $929 has been raised this year in aluminum can collections from the juvenile program for the VZC Veterans Memorial.

“When our trailer is full, that means that we have collected around $220 in aluminum can donations,” pointed out Maucieri.

The aluminum cans collected are taken to Canton Metal Recyclers located west of Lewis Chevrolet on West State Highway 64 in Canton.

“They come and pick up our trailer, empty it, and return the trailer to us,” said Maucieri. “They do a great job and we appreciate everything that they do for us.”