The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)

Volunteers sought for youth aid panels

Program gives juveniles who commit non-violent offenses second chance

- By Carl Hessler Jr.

A restorativ­e justice program in Montgomery County that provides juvenile offenders a second chance to maintain an unblemishe­d record is seeking adult volunteers to assist the district attorney’s office with the program.

District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and Upper Dublin Police Chief Fran Wheatley, the current president of the Montgomery County Police Chiefs Associatio­n, this week put out the call for volunteers for the Montgomery County Youth Aid Panel program, which began in the late 1990s. The program gives juveniles, ages 10 to 18 who commit non-violent offenses, a second chance at rehabilita­tion without ever being arrested and without acquiring a juvenile criminal record.

“Nearly 11,000 juveniles have gone through the (Youth Aid Panel) program and have taken responsibi­lity for their actions. By successful­ly completing the (Youth Aid Panel) program, juveniles avoid having a criminal record that could impact their future employment, military service or college admission,” Steele said.

“We recently expanded this successful, long-term diversiona­ry program in order to help more teenagers. Adults of all ages are eligible to volunteer and will be trained before beginning their service on a Youth Aid Panel. The only requiremen­t is a desire to help juveniles make a positive change in their lives,” Steele added.

Informatio­n about the program and instructio­ns on how to volunteer, as well as a volunteer applicatio­n, can be found at https://www.

Additional­ly, a video about the program and volunteeri­ng is available at https://

Approximat­ely 30 youth

aid panels involving more than 160 volunteers are currently in place throughout the county and all panels need additional volunteers, officials said. There is a more pressing need for volunteers in four areas of the county: Cheltenham, North Penn, Pottstown and Upper Merion.

The time commitment to serve on a youth aid panel is approximat­ely four to six hours a month. Applicants will undergo criminal record and child abuse history checks at no cost to the applicants.

The panels, which serve juveniles from 21 different school districts, receive referrals from local police department­s.

Under the alternativ­e punishment program, eligible juveniles who commit minor offenses have to complete the recommenda­tions made by a local youth aid panel in order to avoid formal charges being filed against them in juvenile court.

The specific requiremen­ts ordered by the panels vary by the juvenile’s needs and the offense committed. The youth aid panels, comprised of citizen volunteers, can recommend

punishment­s that include home detention, restitutio­n and community service.

Panel members can also recommend counseling, monitor a juvenile’s school records, monitor curfew compliance and seek reports from parents about a juvenile’s behavior.

Eligible offenses include most summary offenses, such as shopliftin­g, vandalism and minor drug possession. Those who commit violent crimes, firearm crimes and sexual offenses are not eligible for the diversiona­ry program.

If a juvenile doesn’t comply with the panel’s recommenda­tions, then the police department can file formal charges with juvenile court.

Previously, officials have said the program is beneficial to juveniles and victims.

Victims receive restitutio­n through the program and often receive letters of apology from offenders.

A benefit to police department­s is that the program allows law enforcemen­t to focus attention on more serious crimes. The program can also decrease the number of cases filed in the juvenile court system.

 ?? ?? Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele speaks during a press conference.
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele speaks during a press conference.

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