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Counselors Sought to Help Teen Offenders

Police and a countywide social services agency are seeking volunteers to expand a counseling program for juveniles in Santa Ana involved in crimes ranging from petty theft to graffiti.

The Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program, part of the Catholic-based St. Vincent de Paul Center social services program, has mediated between juvenile wrongdoers and their victims for eight years.

Instead of having the juveniles go to court, the program works out a restitution agreement--either a cash payment or community service--allowing the youngsters to make amends.

The mediation saves the courts money, program case manager David Valenta said, and gives the juveniles and their victims an opportunity to meet face to face.

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“If a person steals a radio out of a car, they don’t usually have to see” the victim, Valenta said. “Mediation puts them across from each other, and [the victim] can ask, ‘Why did you do it?’ ”

The most common response, Valenta said, is “I don’t know.”

Mediators must undergo 25 hours of training to help them express to vandals how their actions adversely affect the whole community.

“We show them how the damage affects businesses and their parents,” Valenta said.

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The Orange-based center has worked in Santa Ana for three years, counseling about 450 juveniles. About 10 volunteers now work with the center and Santa Ana police. Officials would like to have as many as 25 more volunteers. The next training session will be Feb. 1-4.

Information: (714) 836-8100.


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