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Program that helps teen offenders will be expanded

Apr 20, 2011 2:51:00 PM - thestate.com
Richland County’s top law enforcement officials today announced the expansion of a program aimed at first-time youth offenders in schools to now include all teens in the city and county, ages 12-18, who have been caught for minor crimes.

The expansion of the Youth Arbitration Program — announced jointly by Sheriff Leon Lott, 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson and Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott — will be open to youth facing minor charges, such as shoplifting.

Offenders go through arbitration, counseling, make restitution and do community service. They also must write essays, apologize to their parents and victims, and participate in field trips to places like the coroner’s office and state prison.

Those successfully completing the program get a second chance to “go straight,” without an arrest appearing on their records and without taking up time and taxpayers’ money in the juvenile court system.

The arbitration program was the first of its kind in South Carolina when it was launched in 2007 by the sheriff’s department and solicitor’s office. Since then, more than 500 participants have completed the program.