Program to help juvenile offenders

The effort attempts to keep juveniles from further delinquent activities.
MERCER, Pa. -- A Victim Awareness Program for juvenile offenders ages 8 to 18 is being launched by the Mercer County Juvenile Probation Department.
Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Mark Benedetto told Mercer County Commissioners at their chief clerks meeting Tuesday that a pilot program started last spring has been effective and is ready to be implemented on a continuing basis.
Commissioners and the Mercer County Salary Board need to approve the program so that county employees who will staff it can be paid.
The program cost will be borne by fees paid by participants, and it will take place after regular business hours so the impact on county personnel and budget will be minimal.
Sharlee Beatty, Juvenile Division community liaison officer, and Roni Shilling, Juvenile Justice Victim Witness coordinator, will conduct the program as subcontractors.
Benedetto said fees for the program will also be sufficient to cover the cost for indigent offenders to participate.
The program will be open to juveniles who have been convicted of property or minor offenses and referred by the courts. Violent and sex offenders will not be eligible.
Purpose of program
According to a program handbook provided by Benedetto, the intent of the program is to teach participants about the effects of crimes on the offender, the victim and the wider community.
It will try to educate the offender on the impact of his or her crime, develop empathy toward their victims and ensure accountability for their actions. It ultimately attempts to prevent further delinquent activities.
Benedetto said many youths who commit crimes have "limited empathy" and called the new program "a major treatment piece."
Methods used will be discussion, formal presentation and role playing.
Benedetto said crime victims could address the groups as part of the program, although an offender's victim would not participate in the same group as the offender.
Group size, cost
Group sessions will include eight to 10 juveniles. Participation would cost 20, and a session would last 21/2 hours. On completion, the offender would be required to write an apology to their victim which would, however, be sent to the victim only with the victim and the offender's permission.
Benedetto said the Juvenile Probation Department supervises 500 to 600 youths at any given time, with 400 of those on probation. He said about a third of Pennsylvania counties already have such a program.

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