EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - Young offenders are getting a second chance in Madison County with a program to prevent first time offenders from becoming career criminals.

The program is called the Juvenile Diversion Program, and Thursday night was graduation night at the Madison County Courthouse. The kids who completed the program say they've turned their lives around after committing their first crime.

Security cameras caught 16-year-old Corey Kemp breaking into a church. He faced a seven year prison sentence until the Madison County Juvenile Diversion Program.

"Made me realize it's a lot better being out here than being in a jail cell," said Kemp.

Rev. Tim Stark founded the program which provides first time offenders a chance to have criminal charges dismissed if they attend meetings and perform 40 hours of community service.

"I began to see kids make a goofy mistake, first time offenders, and I realize that could haunt them for life," said Stark.

Police caught 13-year-old Drake Holland shoplifting.

"It opened his eyes up to what the consequences could be for him 11:32 if he continued on the path he was going," said Pam Rawlings.

"Does it feel like a second chance? Yeah. How so 10:45 because you're not behind bars," said Drake Holland.

"I didn't want this on my record I've wanted to be a police officer my whole life," said Officer Schuler.

Officer Andrew Shuler with the Caseyville Police Department was 18-years-old when he sold alcohol to a minor during a sting operation. The diversion program allowed him to fulfill his dream of joining the police force.

"The program was very much a second chance," said Officer Schuler.

For young people committing their first crime, the Juvenile Diversion Program is an exit ramp from bad choices. A diploma takes the place of a rap sheet.

To graduate from diversion and have criminal charges dismissed, first offenders must attend a series of group meetings. The focus there is explaining the realities of breaking the law and positive options for the future if they stop committing crimes.

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