The South Carolina agency that handles minor offenders under age 18 is changing how it punishes teens for any wrongdoing they commit once they are in jail.
The state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has begun a process where the youth will meet with their victims and negotiate their punishment. The agency’s Director of Restorative Justice Andy Broughton says the agency is trying to move away from simply locking up offenders in isolation.
“So, what happens now when they violate a rule inside the institution… they’re going to meet with the officer or whoever they offended and they’re going to have to propose some sanctions… or things they’ll do to make up for it,” Broughton told South Carolina Radio Network, “It’s going to hold them much more accountable for their actions.”
The idea uses a framework known as Balance and Restorative Justice, or “BARJ.” Broughton says DJJ has been using the idea successfully for several years to bring together young offenders and their victims in the larger community. He said South Carolina began expanding the concept in January to include juveniles living in its facilities. While other states use the BARJ principles, few apply it to their detention centers, Broughton said.
It’s up to the victim if they want to go forward with the dialogue.
Broughton said this new concept is a radically different way to deal with troublesome teens in DJJ. “In our history (a DJJ detention center) has always been a punitive place,” he said Tuesday, “But this is totally taking away that punitive mindset and turning it into holding you accountable for what you have done by having you face up to what you do in here.”
The idea is to have a young offender meet with the “victim,” whether it is a DJJ guard or staffer or another teen. The offender will then promise to come up with a punishment and the victim will have the option of accepting or refusing that punishment.
For example, a teen who assaults a staff member would normally be required to spend time in isolation. Under the BARJ system, an offending teen would meet in a conference with their victim. After that conference, the teen would consult with a counselor and come up with possible “sanctions” (which could include extra work duties, earlier bedtime, an apology letter, etc.). The assaulted staffer would then say “yes” or “no” to the proposed punishment. If no, the offender would have to come up with a new punishment.
The same would be true if the victim were another juvenile, Broughton said.
Only those juveniles who are considered “calm, cooperative, and safe” would be able to participate. Broughton said the agency would monitor the progress of its young offenders to see if the BARJ principles are working. Some of its data would also include the number of second offenses, time period between them, and number of repeat offenses (committing same violation or crime multiple times, rather than committing different ones).