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Solicitor David Stumbo said his office is in dire need of volunteers for the Community Juvenile Arbitration Program, a program aimed at helping first-time juvenile offenders take responsibility for their actions and avoid the juvenile justice system.

The program has received over 5,000 referrals for first-time offenders in the four counties that comprise the Eighth Judicial Circuit since it was initiated in 1998.

Stumbo said it allows first-time, non-violent juvenile offenders the opportunity to complete a volunteer program as an alternative to the court system and prevent crimes going on the juveniles’ records.

The program uses volunteers as arbitrators. The arbitrators hold hearings involving the juvenile, parents, victims, and law enforcement officers. The juveniles must admit guilt to enter the program, and then the arbitrator “then hears from all parties involved and prepares a contract detailing sanctions for the juvenile, including restitution, apology letters, community service, curfews and written reports, among other sanctions,” according to a news release

Hearings are scheduled to fit the volunteer’s schedule and last about an hour. Volunteers must be at least 21 years of age, possess a high school diploma or equivalent and have a clean criminal record. Volunteers must complete a 21-hour training course. The course will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays from May 3 to May 24. All classes will be held at the Eight Circuit Solicitor’s Office, located at 600 Monument St. Suite 203, Greenwood.

Stumbo said juvenile arbitration is rewarding for everyone involved.“Juvenile arbitration is one of the best things that we get to do in my office. For the volunteer arbitrators, it is an opportunity as a citizen to make a difference in the lives of wayward youth. For the juvenile offenders who find themselves in the crosshairs of prosecution, it is an opportunity to make things right with those who they have victimized and be restored back to the community, hopefully not to offend again.”Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Julie Bledsoe at 864-942-8843.

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