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SD Conference Focuses on Positive Approaches to Juvenile Justice

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Research has shown that positive approaches to youth crime are more effective than punitive measures such as prison at treating kids. (State Farm/Flickr)
Research has shown that positive approaches to youth crime are more effective than punitive measures such as prison at treating kids. (State Farm/Flickr)
 By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - SD - Producer, Contact
August 24, 2017

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The annual Racial and Ethnic Fairness Conference is taking place in Sioux Falls today, addressing disparities in the juvenile justice system and how to better treat youth in the system.

The keynote speaker is retired professor Doctor Martin Brokenleg, who is speaking about the trauma Native Americans have endured across generations. In South Dakota, Native Americans make up nearly 30 percent of the jail and prison population, but are only about 10 percent of the state's population, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

Brokenleg says the current punitive system is an ineffective way to address crime and racial trauma.

"Whether that's a parent punishing a child, or a classroom teacher punishing a student, or society punishing a wrongdoer," he says. "It's the least effective thing you can do for them and for society. There are strategies that are much more effective."

Brokenleg has conducted research into more effective means for serving youth in the juvenile justice system. He and his fellow researchers have four themes to their work: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. These make up what he calls the "circle of courage," a way of building resilient young people who can flourish in the face of adversity.

Brokenleg says there are a hundred years of research and thousands of years of Native American culture showing that positive approaches work better than punishment for youth.

"It will help us move toward the ideals that we always say we hold up as an American people," he adds. "We want people to be independent, to have happy lives, to certainly be in search of happiness. And resiliency strategies and positive approaches to youth are the clear path to getting to those goals."

The conference is at Augustana University, where Brokenleg taught for 30 years before retiring. Other speakers will discuss data's role in addressing racial disparities in the juvenile justice system, the Muslim experience in the system, and trauma-informed schools, which provide approaches for teaching students who have experienced traumatic events.

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