The Community Juvenile Arbitration Program is a community-based diversion program for first time juvenile offenders charged with committing a non-violent crime. Youth are diverted from the juvenile justice system to an arbitration hearing conducted in or near the juvenile’s community. Trained volunteer arbitrators conduct hearings that include the juvenile, his/her parents, the crime victim and the police officer and monitor the juvenile’s progress throughout the program.
During the past year, the Ninth Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office Community Juvenile Arbitration Program volunteer arbitrators have truly impacted the Charleston community. These 44 volunteers have held more than 830 hearing and recouped $9,000 in restitution for victims of crimes. They have ordered in excess of $5,000 in charitable donations and ordered 9,700 hours of community service for local nonprofit organizations. In addition, they help keep the recidivism rate of these juveniles to less than nine percent.
The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice estimated that it costs $200 to prosecute each child through the Family Courts and an additional $180 for follow up probation costs. Using these estimates, volunteer arbitrators have potentially saved the community of Charleston more than $310,000. The impact on the community from the work that these volunteers have accomplished will be felt for years to come.
There were many challenges during the past year of the program. One challenge was to be able to give every juvenile that was eligible for arbitration the opportunity to go through the program. The volunteers stepped up to that challenge, and the number of hearings for the past year represents a 300% increase over the last year. Each juvenile that was eligible for the program was able to become a part of that.
Another challenge was to find community service sites for all of the juveniles to perform their service. To fulfill this need, partnerships were made with churches, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Volunteers were also challenged to think of creative sanctions for the juveniles. Tours of jails, courts and trauma centers were organized. Programs that gave incarcerated juveniles and victims of crimes a chance to speak with these first time offenders were scheduled and partnerships were also made with the two major malls in Charleston County to provide rooms for these programs. Juveniles were sanctioned to take CPR classes, child care classes, write essays on ways that teens can help on the war on terrorism, give supplies to the homeless shelter, help with community concerts and clean roadways.
Volunteers with this program have given hundreds of hours of their time. In addition to conducting hearing, they attended 21-hour training classes and complete nine hours of yearly follow up training. They are motivated by the desire to help increase the competency and learning of juvenile offenders so they can become productive citizens, restoring the community’s role in ensuring public safety and the victim’s faith in the Juvenile Justice System.