Fifth Circuit Solicitor candidates discuss intervention programs, keeping juveniles out of the system

Fifth Circuit Solicitor candidates discuss intervention programs, keeping juveniles out of the system

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - On the eve of Tuesday's primary, Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson and challenger Byron Gipson are voicing their ideas for intervention programs provided to criminal defendants in Kershaw and Richland counties.

Dan Johnson argues his office offers 16 different intervention programs. The diversion programs offered by his office aim to enable offenders to avoid criminal charges and a criminal record. In essence, the programs allow a defendant to demonstrate they are capable of behaving properly and are typically reserved for drug offenses or first-time offenders.

The Fifth solicitor's office website lists seven diversion programs. The Alcohol Education Program, Pre-Trial Intervention Program, Traffic Education Program, Youth Arbitration Program, Drug Court, Veterans Court and DUI Treatment Court are a few of the diversion programs Johnson said he is proud to offer.

"I don't have a magic wand that fixes all in the criminal justice system statewide or even here but one of the things I've tried to do across the intervention programs, meeting with children and their parents, I've tried to the very best

I could to save as many kids as I could save where it is appropriate," Johnson said.

Johnson said when it comes to juveniles, 95 percent of kids are not in the system and are doing normal kid activities, such as being in school and taking part in extracurricular activities. However, the five percent of juveniles that find themselves caught up in the criminal justice system is facing a wide array of issues.

"In that five percent, there could be a myriad of things wrong and the criminal justice system is not a one size fits all, one-stop shop for fixing the community's issues," Johnson said.

Johnson also said it requires a team effort, extending well beyond the solicitor's office, to keep juveniles out of the system or in some cases, from re-offending.

"I can't force a defendant, a juvenile defendant, to do some of these things," he said. "The defense attorneys have to be willing to do it, which they're not always on board and the judges have to be on board to support these things."

Johnson said the Youth Arbitration Program, offered in both Richland and Kershaw counties, has a 92 percent success rate. The juvenile drug court program offered by his office boasts a 78 percent success rate, according to Johnson.

Johnson's challenger attorney Byron Gipson said if elected, he wants to take a closer look at the programs and make appropriate tweaks where necessary.

"Sometimes you may have a situation where you have a person who has drug issues and mental health issues that don't squarely fit in one peg," he said. "Not fitting in one peg, that may exempt them from being put in one program or vice versa.

They can also run into issues where they start a program and it becomes cost prohibitive because to graduate to the next phase you have to finish the first portion of the program. So in that sense, we need to tweak the programs a little bit."

Gipson also said it takes a community effort to keep juveniles from re-offending once they return to normal day-to-day life.

"What happens is when you go home if you're returning to the exact same place with the same circle of friends and those same things are happening in that community, it makes it more likely, unless you have the strongest of strong support systems that the person may re-offend," Gipson said. "So to that end, having those community leaders, faith-based leaders, those folks come in and put together programs and intervene."

The primary race will take place on Tuesday, June 12.

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