The New Year brings new beginnings and a fresh start for many. It is with that in mind that I want to mention one of the great new programs in Kershaw County. The Kershaw County Youth Arbitration Program, which was first introduced in February of 2012, has been a fantastic addition to our county.
Youth Arbitration is a diversionary program that allows first-time juvenile offenders of non-violent crimes the opportunity to make things right for themselves and their community. Arbitration is a legal proceeding that provides juvenile offenders a chance to accept responsibility, to repair the harm they have caused, and to be “restored” in their family and community. It is not a get out of “jail free pass.” Youth offenders are held accountable for their actions by admitting guilt and completing “sanctions” in order to complete the program, if they do not complete the entire program to the satisfaction of the Arbitrator than they are sent directly to family court for normal court proceedings. Upon completion of the program the youth offender can have their record expunged when they turn 18 years old.
“Sanctions” usually include written and verbal apologies to the victims and the child’s parents. The child is often required to write essays in order to educate them on the effects of their actions on the victim, their family, and the community. They must complete community service and, in the case of theft or vandalism, they must pay restitution to the victim. The arbitrator has a great deal of latitude in deciding upon the type and number of “sanctions” imposed; however the ultimate goal is to have the child apologize, understand, and atone.
Prior to this program youth offenders were sent to family court and, if convicted, sent to the Department of Juvenile Justice where they received their first lesson in “Crime 101.” The processing of a youth offender cost the taxpayers $500 to appear in Family Court and then anywhere from $100 to $300 per day for their incarceration. On the other hand, it only cost the taxpayers $1.95 per day of arbitration. Youth arbitration has a 91 percent success rate, which is significantly better than the traditional justice system, and a recidivism rate of only 9 percent.
The old system was broken. We used to lock-‘em-up then let-‘em-out only to lock-‘em-up again and again, all at the taxpayers’ expense. Unfortunately, the idea of a broken government system is no surprise to many; however, in the case of juvenile offenders in Kershaw County that system has been greatly improved.
When a crime is committed our whole community is affected. The peace of mind and sense of security, which is the backbone of all small communities, is lost. Arbitration aims to restore that peace of mind and sense of security by repairing the wrong that has been done.
This would not have been possible if not for the great efforts of 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson, Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Mathews, Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd, Bethune Police Chief Jim Miller, Elgin Police Chief Harold Brown, the ALPHA Behavioral Health Center, and all those behind the scenes that have worked so hard to make this program a reality. Our county owes them all a great debt of gratitude: thank you all.
(Ned Towell is a former Camden City Council member and a volunteer arbitrator for the Kershaw County Youth Arbitration Program.)