BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Six teenagers cited for setting a fire at
an abandoned farmhouse worked out a contract with the property
owner, who agreed to give them a second chance.
The six took part in a Lutheran Social Services program that
brings juvenile offenders together with their victims so they can
apologize and negotiate a contract to resolve the matter.
"It puts a face to the crime, holds the child accountable and
makes them make it right with the victim," said Dave McGeary, who
helps run the program. "Most of these are kids who don't have a
prior record, and (the crime) seems to be an isolated incident."
The old farm north of Bismarck had been used by the Dakota
Adventist Academy for storage, near the academy school and faculty
housing. A Bismarck girl said she was hanging out with friends and
did not know what they intended to do when they drove there last
"I felt remorse," she said. "I felt stupid for not foreseeing
that things could blow up like that, and how quickly things
She and five other juveniles were cited in juvenile court for
arson after two storage buildings were destroyed. The report was
reviewed by an LSS representative, juvenile court officers and
Bismarck Police Youth Bureau officers.
The consensus of the group was that the six teens were
candidates for "juvenile accountability conferences," part of the
youth rehabilitation program.
LSS representative Michelle Dire set up a meeting at the Dakota
Adventist school. At first, Dakota Adventist Principal David
Chapman said he was uncomfortable with it.
He said he changed his mind when he found out that most of the
teens responsible for burning down the farm buildings were
first-time offenders who were sorry for what they had done.
"Kids deserve a second chance," he said. "If these were
anything but kids who had done a dumb thing, I wouldn't have
invited them into my building."
The meeting was held in a classroom at the Dakota Adventist
Academy. Dire said the conferences usually are held at the LSS
building in Bismarck, but an exception was made in this case so
parents could see the site of the arson.
"These kids came across to me as sorry that they were even
involved," Chapman said.
He estimated the value of the destroyed property. He asked for
about $200, and for eight hours of community service from each
The teenagers and their parents agreed to show up after school
to tear out 1,500 square yards of carpet and paint classrooms at
"They came out three days after school and they worked hard,"
Chapman said. "At the end, as I was signing their paperwork, they
were apologizing and said they'd never do something like that
The father of one of juvenile offender said said he could not
think of a better way to resolve such a case than to negotiate
something "mutually acceptabe" that relates to the crime.
McGeary and program director Brenda Bushaw said the juvenile
accountability conferences typically are used with offenders who
have committed property crimes, but they also have been used in
incidents involving everything from simple assault to burglary.
Some first-time offenders are given the option of taking part,
while others are required to participate as part of their probation
conditions. Contracts negotiated between victim and offender are
regulated by LSS, but are open-ended.
"There could be a lot of creativity that could go into the
contract," McGeary said. "Nothing mandates that they must remain
in certain conditions."
In one vandalism case, he said, a victim required that the
offender finish high school. In another case, the victims asked the
offender to apologize to their children, who had been shaken up by
"I've seen extraordinary things where victims have had large
losses and can say, 'I forgive you for what you've done. I just
want you to get your life straightened out,"' Dire said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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06-23-2003, 12:01 AM #1
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06-23-2003, 09:13 PM #2
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This approach doesn't work for everybody. But I agree with this case. If you have kids with essentially clean records, giving them a second chance after doing something stupid is a good idea. Especially in conjunction with fire safety ed and and a proper evaluation.
06-24-2003, 12:11 AM #3iceman4442Firehouse.com Guest
George is right on the money - it works, but not for everyone. I know the Bismarck P.D. P.Y.B. guys, and they are very selective about who is recommended to the program, and the L.S.S. people back them.
It is almost exclusively for first-time offenders. The juvenile court system in our district is looking at this, and is starting to adopt some of what they are doing, just with the formal L.S.S. participation.
Hope it continues to work out well.
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