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ALPHA Center, solicitor’s office celebrate arbitration success

Program cites 93 percent success rate in Kershaw County

Posted: June 23, 2015 5:55 p.m.
Updated: June 24, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Jan Massalon (third from left), a volunteer arbitrator with The ALPHA Center and 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, received the Kershaw County Youth Arbitration Program Volunteer of the Year Award. Celebrating with her are (from left) Sheheen, Johnson, ALPHA Center Director of Youth Diversion Programs Brooke Tidwell, Napper and Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews.

A large group of local law enforcement and community leaders gathered June 19 at The ALPHA Center in Camden to celebrate the success of a youth arbitration program (YAP) in Kershaw County. The celebration featured a presentation by ALPHA Center Director of Youth Diversion Programs Brooke Tidwell, the presentation of two awards and a success story from a YAP participant.

According to Tidwell, Kershaw County YAP -- designed to give youthful offenders a second chance -- is the only such public-private program in the state, a partnership between The ALPHA Center and Johnson’s office. YAP is operated in tandem with the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and local law enforcement, she said, with referrals made through all participating agencies.

It all starts with an incident report from either the Camden Police Department or Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office.

“Then, they either bring the referral to me or they send it to the solicitor’s office, and (the solicitor’s office) makes a petition for it,” Tidwell said. “Once the petition is looked at, it either comes back to arbitration or … it goes through family court. What helps decide that is the severity of the offense and whether or not (the youth) has reoffended or anything like that.”

Tidwell said only first-time offenders are eligible for the program.

If a case fits Kershaw County YAP’s parameters, Tidwell schedules a hearing at the courthouse with a professional arbitrator. Notices are made to the youth offender, the victim, solicitor’s office, law enforcement and DJJ.

“Right before the hearing, I make contact with the youth and victim, just to make sure there aren’t any questions, no concerns, going into the hearing. Once the hearing is conducted, they’re given sanctions. I look at these sanctions as ways to restore the harm that was done to the community and to the victim,” Tidwell said.

Sanctions can include:

• verbal and written apologies to the victim and parents or guardians;

• up to $500 in restitution to the victim;

• community service or a charitable donation;

• drug or alcohol testing;

• referral for assessment for anger management, substance abuse, behavior or emotional issues;

• completing “futures” or “choices” written or multimedia projects;

• completing a DJJ “Think Twice” experience; and

• enforcing any school-assigned sanctions.

“That’s what this program is all about -- restoring the harm that was done,” Tidwell said. “(The sanctions) just depend on what they were charged with and how they came to arbitration.”

Tidwell said the arbitrators who conduct the hearings are trained in what she called “motivational interviewing.”

“What that is, is to meet the individual ‘where they are at.’ We use open-ended questions and what (those) do, they make the juvenile think about what they did and what led up to their action that led them to commit this offense. Our goal in motivational interviewing is to get them not to reoffend,” she said.

Since the program launched in 2012, through April 24, 217 juveniles had been referred to the Kershaw County YAP. From those, 188 hearings have been conducted, 161 of which had successful outcomes. In addition, Tidwell said juvenile offenders have paid more than $5,450 in restitution, completed more than 1,400 and earned and then donated nearly $1,200 to charities such as the Wounded Warrior project, Sistercare, Food for the Soul and United Way of Kershaw County.

“As you can see,” Tidwell said, referring to her presentation, “we have a 93 percent success rate. That is outstanding!”

In addition, Tidwell said YAP costs nothing to the taxpayers or the families of youthful offenders, although there are potential family costs associated with restitution, counseling, drug testing and expungement fees.

Furthermore, she said youthful offenders have paid more in restitution, performed more community service and raised more donated funds than actually required by the program.

“That shows me these kids are willing to repair the harm that was done to the community and give back to the community,” Tidwell said.

She said the number of YAP hearings per month have doubled since the beginning of the year.

“So this has really grown, and I’m very excited that law enforcement, DJJ and solicitor’s office are using this resource to help give these kids a second chance,” Tidwell said.

She then invited Kianna Davis, 17, to speak about what the arbitration meant to her, how she has learned from it and gone on with her life.

“It helped me a lot and my grandma (in) gaining back trust (from) what I did,” Keona said. “Ms. Tidwell did a lot helping out with me. I turned in everything on time or before time and she really did help and I appreciate her and everybody else who helped me, too. I am very grateful I got a second chance to do right and I will not be back in here -- you will not see my face unless it’s something successful.”

Kianna added she wants to become a nurse.

Tidwell wanted to make sure people didn’t think YAP constitutes a slap on the wrist.

“It is not. Each one of our participants -- they work hard,” she said. “This program means so much to me. Each family that I can come in contact with, they touch my life one way or another.”

Tidwell and ALPHA Center Executive Director Paul Napper said the program accepts offenders as young as 11 and up to 16 years of age, with an occasional 17-year-old, depending on the situation. However, they both said they are seeing more offenses -- primarily alcohol-related -- among those 12 and under.

“I’m glad they can come to arbitration,” Tidwell said of 11-year-olds, “and they can learn about the criminal justice system process and, if they do not change their ways, what could happen to them in the future.”

“Let’s take that one step further,” Napper added. “This year, so far, we’ve seen 54 kids under the age of 12 at the ALPHA Center that we have put into treatment. Not only into arbitration, but in to more serious treatment. We’re seeing younger and younger violators and prison’s not the answer for these kids.”

Napper said thanks to Johnson, State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, Kershaw County School District Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan and others, the ALPHA Center is able to help “younger and younger” students.

“We’re not going to stop at 12; we’re already training our clinicians to go down to the age of 8. We’re getting them specialized training. What can you do with them? Lock them up? These are our kids, they’re God’s children … Kershaw County’s responsibility and it does take a village to raise a child,” Napper said.

With that, he and Sheheen presented Johnson a token of appreciation in the form of a small award which Sheheen read: “(It’s) of our deep appreciation for your outstanding commitment and dedication to your support of the Youth Arbitration Program of Kershaw County.”

Johnson said he was a “little embarrassed” by the recognition and that it should really go to the staff at both his office, The ALPHA Center and participating law enforcement agencies. He also spoke of how he was inspired to launch YAP in Kershaw County by former judge and DDJ Director Bill Byars of Camden.

“Prior to my election, the first term, Bill came to me and, for many years, was trying to bring this program to Kershaw County and, for a lot of different reasons, he couldn’t make it happen,” Johnson said. “Prior to my being sworn in, I committed to Bill that we would make this thing happen. Once I was elected, I approached a lot of different people, including (Kershaw County) Sheriff (Jim) Matthews, (Camden Police) Chief (Joe) Floyd, and Paul to do this.”

One thing Johnson asked those on hand to keep in mind concerning the 93 percent success rate is the fact Kershaw County’s population is only around 61,000 people.

“When you think about the impact this program has on the future of this county, it’s huge. The success rate means these kids are not coming back, they’re not reoffending and coming back into the system with larger, more significant criminal activity which impacts the community as a whole,” he said.

Johnson said the program would not work without the cooperation and assistance of public volunteers.

“I think that’s what the secret sauce is in the program,” he said. “You guys show up to all these things, all the people in this room care about kids and the future of this county.”

Johnson, in turn, helped present the YAP Volunteer of the Year Award to Jan Massalon, one of the program’s arbitrators. He said when they met a year, Massalon told him she previously worked at DJJ and wanted to get involved. Johnson said he pointed her to the arbitration program.

“We are grateful for her dedication, faithfulness and commitment to the Kershaw County Youth Arbitration Program,” Johnson read from the award.

 

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