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County Youth Arbitration Program celebrates success

Posted: March 15, 2013 5:42 p.m.
Updated: March 18, 2013 5:00 a.m.

The ALPHA Center celebrated its success with the Kershaw County Youth Arbitration Program with a luncheon Friday. Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson attended and presented with an award in honor of his support and funding of the program which began in February 2012.

The arbitration program’s purpose is to divert youths charged with committing a non-violent crime for the first time from the judicial system. Diverting them keeps those youths who qualify from the formal justice system, instead providing them with an arbitration hearing or conference after which they must complete a 90-day program consisting of accepting responsibility, attempting to repair through restitution, both a written and vocal apology, and restoring themselves as productive and law-abiding citizens.

While Arbitration Coordinator Minnie Bullock said that Johnson and S.C. Department of Corrections Director Bill Byers made the program possible, Johnson referred to himself as “the guy who does the least.”

Bullock said that the program has been in South Carolina since the 1980s, but that Kershaw County didn’t actually receive funding for the program until last year. Since the program started in Kershaw County, 39 adolescents have completed the program with none committing another crime.

“I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to achieve… We have been able to make a safer and better place,” Johnson said.

The arbitration program attempts to ensure public safety by strengthening a community’s capacity to prevent and control crime without simply placing a youth into the judicial system. Instead, youths are able to learn from the experience and restore their lives. Youths participating in the program are placed within various sanctions in the community from which they would most benefit. Sanctions include apologies, seeking treatment, performing community service, counseling and attending educational programs.

The program is also largely run by volunteers from the community, keeping costs of the program down.

S.C. State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk presented Johnson with his award and also discussed an amendment being made to a Cyber Bullying Bill passed earlier this month. The amendment will allow those charged with cyber bullying to qualify for the Youth Arbitration Program.

“The biggest thing I love about the program is being able to support the kids to achieve a healthier lifestyle and place them in sanctions which will help restore the teen back to healthy behaviors,” Mara Horton Jones, the ALPHA Center’s director of operations and treatment programs.

As chair of the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees, Jones is a volunteer arbitration as opposed to taking a leadership role in the program in order to avoid any conflicts of interest involving school district students.

Bullock referred to the program as something that brings the entire community together because of the way in which schools, law enforcement, ALPHA Center, and sanction locations -- such as the Walter Crowe Animal Shelter and Food for the Soul -- work together to get youths back on track.

Johnson made a presentation of this own: a check of $24,374 intended for Kershaw County Council. He asked that the funds go to the Youth Arbitration Program, explaining that this is the second settlement check stemming from a legal settlement with Lending Tree being given to the county.

For more information on the Kershaw County Youth Arbitration Program, visit www.KCYouthArb.org or contact the ALPHA Center at 432-6902.

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