The York County Juvenile Probation Department runs a program for first-time juvenile offenders that should be replicated nationwide. Working with non-violent first-time offenders, juveniles are given the opportunity to enter a diversionary program that will teach them important life lessons while also allowing them to expunge criminal records.
The Youth Aid Panel, as the program is called, was started in its current form in 2007. In the past three years, 7,292 young boys and girls have gone through the program, performing over 4,600 hours of community service as a result. With an 88% success rate as of 2015, the team of 65 volunteers, split up into 20 three- to five-person panels, are changing lives for their local communities.
The local part is very important for many of the volunteers, as it makes sure the child knows they have a support network in their own town. Youth Aid Panel Coordinator Michelle Breen points out that if "the juvenile went to Red Lion or Dallastown high school, that panel would meet at the York Area Police Department."
But some teams are becoming understaffed. That is why they have put out a call for volunteers.
Breen makes the point that the group need "as many [volunteers] as we can get." Two members or even one-member panels simply are not fair to the children.
The program takes kids that are facing summary and misdemeanor charges, pulling them out of the formal criminal justice system, and putting them in front of a court-sanctioned panel run by members of the young person’s community. The kids are referred to the program by the very same police officers that are investigating them.
The panel interviews the children and their families before deciding on what would be the best sentence. The goal is to have the juvenile work towards not only paying back the victim but also making them feel a part of the community as well, taking ownership of certain responsibilities that help everyone. Examples of sentences include performing community service, letters of apology, drug and alcohol screenings, and writing/research assignments.
Successful completion of this program is where the benefit to all is most apparent. Upon release, a juvenile will have a six-month waiting period before they are able to move on with their lives, having a completely clean criminal record with all mentions of their name on any arrest records being expunged.
Now is your chance to give back.
New panel members are needed. The Juvenile Probation Department is looking for volunteers that are 18 years or older, have no criminal record, and can successfully pass Pennsylvania child abuse checks and FBI clearance checks.
After a three-hour online training course, the panel members will meet once a month with juveniles and their families in the evening. All members must note that recent changes to Pennsylvania state law makes it so anyone working with children is legally obligated to report suspected child abuse.
Anyone interested should contact Breen at 717-771-9567 x348 or co-Coordinator Lori Petraco at 717-771-9567 x306.
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