The Solicitor’s Office is seeking volunteers to serve as arbitrators for first-time, non-violent juvenile offenders.
The Second Judicial Circuit’s Juvenile Arbitration Program serves as a mediation program for juvenile offenders ages 11 to 17 in Aiken, Bamberg and Barnwell counties.
The 90-day diversion program is run with the help of community volunteers, who are trained by the Solicitor’s Office and serve as arbitrators in the cases. The program helps to decrease the number of cases brought to family court, according to program coordinator Rebecca Jowers.
“It gives (youth) their second chance instead of going to the court system and hiring attorneys,” Jowers said. “We all make mistakes. It gives them a chance to show the community they can learn from their mistakes. Our goal is to keep them out of the court system.”
As an arbitrator, a citizen volunteer conducts hearings to determine sanctions for a juvenile, seeking input from all hearing participants including the juvenile and parents, as well as law enforcement and victims, when present.
Arbitrator volunteers must be at least 21 years old, have a high school diploma and be willing to submit to a background and driving record check.
Volunteers who meet those requirements will be invited to training with the Solicitor’s Office in September.
Training includes 15 hours of classroom time and six hours of “hands-on” training, such as sitting in on family court or observing other arbitrators conducting hearings, Jowers said.
Volunteers must also complete nine hours of follow-up training each year. Jowers said they can dedicate as much or as little time to the program as they want.
Participation in the program is voluntary for offenders, who would otherwise go through the family court process. Some of the non-violent charges the program handles include disorderly conduct, assault and battery, shoplifting, simple possession of marijuana and carrying a weapon on school property.
The classroom training sessions will be Sept. 21 and 28 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are no cost to volunteers.
For more information, email Jowers at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 642-1512.
Teddy Kulmala covers the SRS and Courts beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.