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Report: Moms, Families Target Juvenile Justice Reforms

A new report shows that families of incarcerated children have become effective advocates for changes in the juvenile-justice system. (iStockphoto)
A new report shows that families of incarcerated children have become effective advocates for changes in the juvenile-justice system. (iStockphoto)
May 6, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. - Families of more than 170 young people in South Dakota will be feeling the pain of separation this Mother's Day weekend because of incarceration, a new report suggests.

In many states, according to the "Mothers at the Gate" report from the Institute for Policy Studies, family members are challenging the juvenile-justice system to make changes.

Report co-author Karen Dolan, a fellow at the institute, said South Dakota has taken positive steps this year including passing a ban on sentences of life without parole for juveniles. Dolan said moms across the country are trying to do more by becoming policy experts and activists.

"These mothers don't want to be seen as victims," she said. "They are experts, they are resources in terms of how to change the conditions, not just for their children, but for other children."

Nationally, Dolan said, some juvenile-justice reform advocates are trying to get states to end solitary confinement while others want to ultimately abolish youth imprisonment altogether.

Over the past decade, South Dakota is among the states that have enacted laws aimed at reducing the youth prison population. However, Dolan said her research shows more kids are being locked up for a wider range of offenses, including those that once were considered juvenile misbehavior.

"We see more criminalization and policing inside of schools," she said. "You have much less tolerance for childish behavior, and so these children end up being locked up instead of sent to the principal's office."

The report suggested several other changes South Dakota and other states could make, such as improving visitation rules and telephone access for families.

The report is online at ips-dc.org.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - SD