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Retired Putnam judge honored for dedication to kids

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Not having any children of his own made Judge O.C. Spaulding feel more responsible for juvenile offenders.

"Many kids who are not doing well just need some direction and supervision. I saw too many kids waste their lives. It was sad," Spaulding, a former Putnam County Circuit Court judge and prosecutor, recalled.

Officials gathered Thursday to unveil a program named for Spaulding at the Putnam County Youth Reporting Center that will provide the opportunity for suspended or expelled juveniles to continue receiving an education.

The program also will serve as another option for the court system, said Putnam Circuit Judge Phillip Stowers.

Stowers recalled his many conversations with Spaulding about the problems they faced as judges dealing with juveniles.

"How come we can't do different programming for youth? We have this wonderful facility -- how come schools can't be there? How come schools and courts can't work together?" Stowers said Spaulding would ask him.

"Think of the numbers [of juveniles] to come into his courtroom over the years and he only had the choice of probation or some type of improvement plan . . . or actually institutionalizing the youth," Stowers said. "Compare that to what we have now."

Spaulding raised both of his thumbs and smiled about the program. He retired after being diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He can no longer speak and communicates by writing his words on a handheld device that can speak for him.

"I hope the center helps them reach their potential," he said.

Typically, when a juvenile is suspended or expelled from school, they are assigned a teacher who sees them about four hours per week, said Penny Fisher, assistant superintendent of pupil services for Putnam County Schools.

"[Juveniles] could get in more trouble at home when their parents are at work," Fisher said.

Now, when ordered by a judge, students will be expected to attend the center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Lunches prepared at Winfield Middle School will be delivered to the center.

There are six similar programs around the state, said David Hill, director of the Putnam center.

"Here," Hill said, "instead of being homebound, they'll get taught in a school setting."

Juveniles also will participate in group therapy, substance-abuse counseling and anger management. They will be taught life skills and undergo drug tests.

"This is a landmark day. I don't want you to make any mistake about it, this is a landmark day in Putnam County," said Stowers, applauding the commitment from the county's Board of Education and court officials. He especially thanked Spaulding, who he said is the inspiration behind the program.

"All of these youths he's worked with for years as a public official," Stowers said. "And they will continue throughout this center's life to know his name and have an influence on what happens in their lives."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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