Crime & Courts

Volunteer arbitrators sought to help keep Richland youthful offenders out of jail

Cpl. Chiquita Singletary (pictured right) is the program director for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department Youth Arbitration Department. The program is currently seeking 10 to 15 volunteers before they begin training in September.
Cpl. Chiquita Singletary (pictured right) is the program director for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department Youth Arbitration Department. The program is currently seeking 10 to 15 volunteers before they begin training in September. Cpl. Chiquita Singletary

In an effort to continue to keep juvenile offenders on the right path, The Richland County Sheriff’s Department Youth Arbitration Department is searching for volunteer arbitrators to add to their program.

Developed in 2007, the program gives juvenile offenders charged with a misdemeanor, nonviolent crimes the option of clearing a charge from their record, rather than facing formal prosecution in court. The department is looking for 10 to 15 more volunteer arbitrators to add to their existing 61 arbitrators before training starts in September.

Cpl. Chiquita Singletary, who became the program’s director in March, said the program has a 93 percent success rate in graduating offenders and a recidivism rate of less than 11 percent.

“They are good kids, but they just make a mistake,” Singletary said. “They have to do community service, write apology letters, sometimes pay restitution and write essays to help them realize, ‘I made a mistake.’”

Singletary said with the help of volunteer arbitrators, who serve as the judge and jury during a case, there is restorative justice back to the community, the victim and the offender.

Judy Burton-Wiggins, a software consultant in Irmo, has been a volunteer arbitrator since the program’s beginning. After hearing over 150 cases involving youthful offenders, Burton-Wiggins said she has only had three of her offenders “reoffend.”

“I like working with the kids because they all need a second chance,” Burton-Wiggins said. “They make a dumb decision, and they just need somebody to go to bat for them.”

As an arbitrator, Burton-Wiggins said she reviews the circumstances of a case and makes contact with the arresting officer, the offender’s school, the parents, the victim and then the offender. A hearing is then held, normally on Saturdays to accommodate for all parties’ schedules, in which the offender must admit guilt to the charge. Then, the 90-day process of meeting certain sanctions is set by Burton-Wiggins. If not, the offender will face the formal process of the court system for the charge.

To be an arbitrator you have to “have patience, and you have to have the ability to work with kids,” Burton-Wiggins said. “You have to be willing to go that extra mile for them.”

Reach Cahill at (803) 771-8305.

Interested in becoming a volunteer arbitrator?

Training for volunteer arbitrators will be held from September 14-17 and September 21-24 for a total of 24 hours. The training will be held Monday through Thursday for those weeks for three hours a day. Here are some steps you can take if you, or someone you know, is interested in joining the Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s Youth Arbitration Department:

▪ Visit the Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s website (http://rcsd.net/) to obtain an application from the programs/services menu.

▪  Send an application to 5623 Two Notch Columbia, S.C. with a “Youth arbitration” specifier.

▪  Email Cpl. Chiquita Singletary for an electronic application at csingletary@rcsd.net, or call at (803) 576-1460

▪  Training will be held at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy located at 5400 Broad River Road, Columbia, S.C.

Source: The Richland County Sheriff’s Department

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