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South Dakota Initiative Successfully Reduces Juvenile Detention

Research suggests detention of juveniles can increase the likelihood that they will commit another crime. (aclu.org)
Research suggests detention of juveniles can increase the likelihood that they will commit another crime. (aclu.org)
October 28, 2019

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – In the past six years, the youth detention population in South Dakota has decreased significantly and the number of juveniles committed to the Department of Corrections has decreased by 65%.

The reduction is a result of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, adopted in 2011.

State coordinator Annie Brokenleg says locking youths up can accelerate criminal behavior by harming mental health and can negatively affect future educational and employment opportunities.

Instead, she says tools now are used to determine which youths are eligible to participate in after school or evening rehabilitation activities.

"They get life skills, they get help with their homework, they do cooking classes, they do community service projects over the weekend, so it's providing them the positive opportunities in the community, versus sitting in detention," she states.

Since the early 1990s, 40 states and Washington, D.C. have adopted the JDAI framework to put children in trouble on a better path.

Developed and supported by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the initiative reports that juvenile detention populations in participating states have been cut in half.

South Dakota has done even better, decreasing the number of youths in detention by 62%.

The detention alternative was introduced in counties that include Sioux Falls and Rapid City, but is now expanding to counties that include Mitchell, Aberdeen and Watertown.

Brokenleg says the goal is not only to safely decrease the number of youths held in detention, but also increase options for them to remain in their communities.

"Kids that can be safely supervised in the community, like through the evening reporting center, they're more likely to graduate high school, they're more likely to maintain steady employment, and will be less likely to re-offend," she points out.

In 2018, only 6% of youths failed to appear for court after being released and only 11% of youth re-offended.

Despite the progress, Brokenleg says improvements are needed in order for every youth, especially South Dakota's Native American youths, to benefit from detention reform.

Disclosure: South Dakota KIDS COUNT contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Youth Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD