Whitney Harper has seen many kids make bad decisions. What the mediator always hopes, however, is that their lives are not defined by one mistake.
That is why Harper is committed to working with young offenders at the Victim Offender Restitution Service Program at the non-profit Centinela Youth Services, Inc. With the assistance of law enforcement agencies, the program help youths who have committed a crime understand the consequences of their actions by bringing them into mediation with their victims. Those face to face sessions have included homeowners, business owners, teachers, local governments, and other teens. The ultimate goal is to teach young perpetrators to feel empathy for their victims so that they won’t re-offend.
Police agencies divert young offenders who commit low level crimes such as petty theft, vandalism or battery to the Victim Offender Restitution Service Program. The program steps in to reach an agreement between victim and offender in the form of a letter of apology, community service, or monetary restitution. Furthermore, the program gives the offender the opportunity to go through mediation as an alternative to court proceedings as long as they follow through with the restitution agreement.
“Without the program youth would be sent to court and face conviction for the offense that they committed and that would lead them to be more likely to re-offend in the future,” said Harper, the youth services manager. “They would have that first or second offense on their record and if they were to commit a third offense they can face juvenile hall or much worse consequences.”[raw]
Harper recalls when a young man was sent to their office for tagging on a freeway on- ramp in Montebello last July. Referred by the Los Angeles County Probation Department, the young man had to face the Montebello park supervisor who told him how difficult and dangerous it can be to clean up graffiti. The young man agreed to complete 64 hours of community service at the park. Two months after completing his hours, he continues to volunteer at the park. In fact, the park supervisor informed Harper that the young man is doing such an exceptional job that he likely will be offered a job.
The program works.
Agreements have been reached in 98 percent of the mediation cases referred to the program, and a published study conducted by the California Judicial Courts concluded that 85 percent of youth offenders who participate in victim restitution programs had not been re-arrested within one year.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently recognized the program for receiving the John Anson Ford Human Relations Award from the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations. The award is given to individuals, organizations and companies that significantly improve and demonstrate excellence in human relations within the county.
“The Victim Offender Restitution Service Program gives young people the opportunity to become accountable for their actions without facing the penalty of law enforcement,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “This program uniquely provides a positive learning experience for youth to learn from their mistakes -so that it is just that- a mistake and not a pattern of crime. I commend the Victim Offender Restitution Service Program for their commitment to empowering young people to understand the depth of their actions.”
Tiffany Tatum, Centinela Youth Services, Inc. director, said the award was more than recognition for their work but also a tribute to the volunteer mediators who provide hours of their time to work with young people.
“We’ve been providing years and years of mediation, experience and knowledge to our community,” she said. “We look forward to continuing that endeavor.”
To learn more about the Victim Offender Restitution Service Program, please visit: www.cys-la.org[/raw]