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Jennifer Mariman said she was “always particular” about locking up her car.

In fact, the 31-year-old said that she always told her fiancé, Dave Malone, that he was the one who would have his car stolen because he always left it unlocked.

But the night of April 20, she forgot to lock her car.

“I had a screaming toddler in the car, carrying groceries, I was the only one by myself,” she said. “And I had forgotten my purse in my car because I was more concentrated on the groceries and my son and feeding him.”

Later that night, her car was stolen by teenagers. The vehicle was recovered several hours after she reported it missing.

Mariman's scenario is one that has become all too common throughout the Quad-Cities in recent years.

Unlike many other car theft victims, however, Mariman got the chance this spring to face two of the young offenders who rode around in her stolen vehicle, and together they worked to repair the harm.

The two boys, 14 and 16, are the first to successfully complete the Auto Theft Accountability Program, a new victim-offender mediation program in Scott County aimed at decreasing the number of vehicle thefts committed by juveniles through a restorative justice concept. 

On Friday, Mariman, the boys and their families, program facilitators and others gathered at the Scott County Juvenile Detention Center to celebrate their completion of the program and received a certificate. 

The younger teen, who sat between his grandparents, told the group he was thankful for the program because “we get to meet new people and we just get to change our mind about a few things.

“We see a whole new perspective of what could happen if you go and do bad stuff, and so that changed me.”

That's exactly what Mariman hoped the boys would take from the program. 

“What I basically wanted them to learn was perspective and starting to think about other people other than themselves in situations and… what their actions do to other people,” Mariman said.

How does it work?

The program is aimed at first-time juvenile offenders facing charges of first- or second-degree theft or operating a motor vehicle without owner’s consent, Kaiser said.

Jeremy Kaiser, director of the Scott County Juvenile Detention Center and diversion programs, said the increase in stolen vehicle arrests has effectively doubled the size of the center’s daily population.

“To me, it just seemed like we needed to do more to try to divert offenders, and so many of the offenders were first-time offenders that needed an intervention that was swift and effective so we didn’t have so many piling up in detention,” Kaiser said.

Scott County’s program began taking referrals April 30. Since then, six have been accepted into the program. Of those, three have re-offended, Kaiser said.

A juvenile court intake officer will review the case when it comes into the juvenile court system and, if the juvenile fits the criteria, it will be forwarded on to the county attorney’s office for approval.

Once approved, program staff contact the juvenile and his or her family within 48 hours to set up a pre-conference meeting.

During that meeting, the staff talk to the juvenile about the program, including what to expect, ensure the juvenile is willing to accept responsibility repair the harm they've done to the victim.

The victim and juvenile are then brought together for a restorative community conference, where the juvenile hears from the victim, their family and community members.

“Then, within that circle, each person talks about the harms that have been done so the offender has a chance to listen to the impact that they made on the community," Kaiser said. The offender and the offender's family then brainstorm the offender's strengths, and based on those, the group discusses ways to repair harm to victim and the community. 

Mariman said her car was still drivable when it was recovered. However, when the two boys and other juveniles jumped out and ran from the vehicle, the car was still running and hit a police squad car, causing damage. There also was drug paraphernalia in the car, and they had thrown out a stroller and her purse.

She also had to pay $150 to get the stench of cigarette smoke out of the vehicle, Mariman said.

In her case, the boys agreed to mow her lawn every Sunday and do other yard work, draw or paint a picture for her son and purchase a new stroller.

Mariman also wanted them to stay on track with their chores and things they needed to do at home, participate in the Scott County Y Achievers Program, and do community service.

They have three months to complete those tasks and, if they do, the charge or charges against them will ultimately be dismissed. Dave Bonde, a program facilitator and youth counselor at the JDC, said the boys must keep their noses clean for another six months before the charges are dismissed.

The boys also will continue to be monitored by the program for a year.

Coming clean

When Mariman was first approached to participate in the program, she thought this could be a way to have a “little bit more control about what happened to me.”

“If I went to court, I would literally have no say, I would never see them, I would never have met them, they would have just gone along their way,” she said.

When asked about the first time she met with the boys, she said “it’s crazy because you feel violated because your stuff was taken from you in the middle of the night.

“But, I actually was looking forward to meeting them because a lot of people don’t get to say the things they’re feeling to the people who stole something from them or hurt them or did anything bad to them.”

Mariman said she didn’t know at first whether the program would work, but she said the teens proved themselves to be dedicated to righting their wrong.

“They were always super respectful and super great and showed up on time, and that is really hard sometimes for teenagers to do," Mariman said. "I think it really helped that they had people in their lives to keep them on track as well.”

Scott Hobart, chief juvenile court officer for the state of Iowa juvenile court services in the 7th Judicial District, said Friday that his agency handles every theft that occurs not just in Scott County but the whole judicial district. The Auto Theft Accountability program is an example of community healing, he said.

“This is an example of showing these young guys that there is a way that they can not only make the victim whole again, but they can stop right back into society clean again,” Hobart said. “That’s important.

Bonde said the program opened his eyes to restorative justice, and “it was great to see that something like this could be successful, and it was great to have an early success with these two.

“I can understand sort of the knee jerk reaction when they (people) hear about something like this,” he said. “They think the kids aren’t being held accountable, but the truth is they are, not only by themselves but by the people they have victimized and their family.”

Bonde said Friday was “huge” for the program.

“This was extremely important and something I think the boys can feel very, very proud of being the first ones to actually successfully complete the program, and I think that it had a lot of impact on them.”

Kaiser said he “absolutely” believes the program will cut down on recidivism.

“It’s a good learning process, and it’s hard,” he said. “True accountability is hard, to look someone in the face and to listen to them talk about all the bad things that have happened to them because of you, is hard to do.

“Without them being accountable, the rest of it just doesn’t work.”

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