The mission of the Department of Juvenile Justice is to protect the public and reclaim juveniles through prevention, community service, education, and rehabilitate services in the least restrictive environment.
This week Newberry Notes sponsors an interview with the recently assigned Julie H. Bledsoe, director of Juvenile Arbitration with the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice. The discussion will bring special information about the Community Juvenile/Youth Arbitration Program.
The program is a community-based program that provides fast track accountability for first-time youthful offenders charged with committing a nonviolent crime. These youths are diverted from the formal justice system to an arbitration hearing or conference conducted in or near their communities. Trained volunteer arbitrators conduct the hearings/conferences and monitor the youths’ progress throughout the program, which is authorized to operate by Solicitor’s Offices in all l6 judicial circuits in South Carolina.
The three goals of the Arbitration Program are:
To hold young offenders accountable for their actions and for the harm they cause to their victim’s and communities.
To increase the competency and learning of young offenders so they can become productive citizens.
To ensure public safety by strengthening a community’s capacity to prevent and control crime.
The Arbitration Program is an excellent example of balanced and restorative justice. Volunteers from the communities in which the youths live are the lifeblood of the program. The citizen volunteers guide the development of common sense solutions to divert at-risk youths from the justice system.
PROGRAM BASICS — Participants in the arbitration process include a trained citizen volunteer, the youthful offender and his or her parent(s)/guardian, the crime victim, and the arresting officer. The youth’s participation is voluntary and requires an admission of facts or guilt. After determining the facts of the case, the arbitrator works with all participants to establish works with all participants to establish agreeable and appropriate sanctions for the youth to complete, ensuring that he or she repairs the harm caused to his or her victim(s) and community and learns from the experience.
These actions may include:
Paying monetary restitution.
Performing a community service.
Making a charitable donation.
Attending educational programs.
Participating in counseling.
Apologizing to the victim(s).
Attending substance abuse programs.
Participating in victim impact panels.
Visiting correctional institutions or making other appropriate field trips.
Successful completion of the Arbitration Program enables the youth to make amends for his or her actions and avoid formal prosecution in court. If the youth does not successfully complete the program, he or she is referred to court for prosecution.
The Arbitration Program does not accept violent offenders, previous diversion program participants, or truants and other status offenders.
PROGRAM SUCCESS — The Juvenile/Youth Arbitration Program has experienced much success across South Carolina, as demonstrated by the following outcomes:
91 percent overall success rate of juvenile participants (only 9% of juveniles re-offend within 2 years of completing the program).
5,086 youth referred to program.
35,958 hours of community service work completed by youth.
921 community service work sites utilized.
$59,390 to victims for reparation.
462 community volunteers (arbitrators).
PROGRAM VOLUNTEERS — The success of the Community Juvenile/Youth Arbitration Program depends on community participation and volunteerism. The volunteer arbitrators come from all walks of life, and are the heart and soul of the program. Each volunteer arbitrator must be:
Screened by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the SC Department of Social Services.
Approved by the Solicitor’s Office or Sheriff’s Department. The volunteer arbitrator must also receive 9 hours of follow-up training for each consecutive year of service.
21 years old and a high school graduate.
PROGRAM HISTORY — Modeled after a similar program in Florida, the Juvenile/Youth Arbitration Program in South Carolina began when Lexington County Solicitor Donald V. Meyers initiated it in the 11th Judicial Circuit in 1983. The circuit includes Lexington, Saluda, Edgefield and McCormick counties.
After learning the success of the program in the 11th Circuit, other S.C. solicitors and family court judges wanted the Program implemented in their circuits. Today, Arbitration Programs operate in all 16 judicial circuits, covering 43 counties. The Eighth Judicial Circuit covers Abbeville, Greenwood, Laurens and Newberry.
Department of Juvenile Justice has been supportive of the Juvenile/Youth Program since its inception. The agency currently contributes funds toward the program and serves as the state agency that distributes appropriated funds to each judicial circuit through a contract authorized by each circuit solicitor. In additions, DJJ provides training and technical assistance to all program staff and monitors the progress of the programs in each circuit.”