Youthful Offender Act (YOA) - What It Is, Sentencing Benefits & Drawbacks
South Carolina has many sentencing options. One such option is a sentence called the Youthful Offender Act, or YOA. This article will explain YOA sentences, and outline their benefits and drawbacks.
YOA: An Explanation
Only people between the ages of 18-25, who are found guilty of non-violent crimes are eligible for sentencing under YOA. The structure of a YOA sentence is unique: there is an initial period of incarceration, usually between 9 months and 3 years.
During that period of incarceration, the client is housed only with other YOA offenders in a separate section of the Department of Corrections. This area is often referred to as the YOA camp. The YOA camp is more focused on rehabilitation than other areas of the South Carolina prison system. There are more educational and counseling options available to people housed in the YOA camp.
After the initial period of incarceration in the YOA camp is complete, the YOA offender is released on YOA parole. YOA parole is supervised by parole agents employed by the Department of Corrections. The length of time that someone is on YOA parole varies widely, and there appear to be no clear guidelines for the length of supervision. Instead, the YOA parole agents have broad discretion as to when to end their supervision. If an offender completes their YOA parole without any problems, then their sentence is complete.
However, if the YOA offender violates their YOA parole, often by failing drug tests, getting re-arrested, or failing to report to their agent, then their YOA sentence is “revoked,” meaning they have to go back to the YOA camp for one year. At the end of that one year, they are again released on YOA parole.
The total amount of time incarcerated at the YOA camp can’t be more than 6 years.
Benefits of a YOA sentence
If an offender successfully completes their YOA sentence with no violations while on parole, their conviction is eligible for expungement 5 years from the date of their release from parole, as long as they have not been arrested for any new crimes (excluding Driving Under Suspension).
This is a huge benefit, as it allows for the potential expungement of the conviction of crimes that are not otherwise eligible for expungement under the law.
Additionally, imprisonment in a YOA camp gives the offender better opportunities to spend their time incarcerated productively by gaining job skills, certifications, or a GED.
Drawbacks of a YOA sentence
The broad discretion given to YOA parole agents in deciding how long an offender will remain on YOA parole is a significant drawback to this type of sentence.
Some people refer to a YOA sentence as “baby life” because if an offender goes to the YOA camp for their initial period of 9 months, then does well on YOA parole for 3 years, but violates that parole in year 4, they will be sent back to the YOA camp for one year, then released on YOA parole again. They could then do well for another 3 years on YOA parole, then violate their parole in year 4, and be sent back to the YOA camp again for another year. This cycle could continue until they have served a total of 6 years at the YOA camp, but the total time on the YOA sentence of incarceration plus supervision could extend beyond 10 years.
Finally, while the expungement benefit is a huge draw, very few offenders in real life are able to take advantage of it because the requirements are so stringent.
In some cases, a YOA sentence can be a fantastic outcome for a young person that made a very big mistake. In other cases, it can create a cycle of incarceration and supervision that is difficult to escape.
If you have been offered a plea deal that includes a YOA sentence, it is important to have a criminal defense lawyer who understands this complicated sentencing scheme so they can guide you through whether this is a good option in your circumstance.
If you have not been offered a YOA sentence, but think it would be a good option for you, you need a criminal defense lawyer who will fiercely advocate for you to be sentenced under the YOA.
This post is offered for general information only and is not legal advice. Our lawyers must make a case-by-case assessment of any claims. Results may vary depending on the facts involving any case.