Juvenile alternatives to lockup showing hope in South DakotaMajor change has come to a state that once locked up more delinquent kids than any other, with juveniles behind bars at a rate more than twice the national average.
By: AP , The Associated Press
Minnehaha County is locking up one-third as many youths as it did two years ago, and Pennington County is locking up about half as many.
Instead, teens caught skipping school, drinking or stealing are supervised at evening reporting centers, spending time on house arrest or wearing electronic monitoring bracelets.
It’s a major change in a state that once locked up more delinquent kids than any other, with juveniles behind bars at a rate more than twice the national average.
Now the state’s Council on Juvenile Services wants to take the philosophies and concepts that brought the changes to the rest of the state.
Hughes County Sheriff Mike Liedholt, a member of the council, said most teens grow out of problem behavior, and alternatives make more sense.
Liedholt hopes his county is one of the two to apply for $80,000 in research money the council voted to offer next year. “Nobody wants to be soft on juvenile crime, but that’s not what this is about,” Liedholt said. “The key to me is dealing with them appropriately. We want to make sure we aren’t locking up kids that don’t need to be locked up.”
Charles Mix County State’s Attorney Pam Hein was intrigued by the numbers as well. The small county sends an outsized number of delinquent youth from Wagner, Lake Andes and Marty to the juvenile center in Sioux Falls, she said, and any program that can help turn them around without a costly lockup is worth a look.
“If it works, I’m all for it,” Hein said.
The reductions in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, and statistics showing no corresponding increase in crime, were presented last week during a working conference in Sioux Falls for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative.
The summit was attended by juvenile justice stakeholders from more than two dozen counties and eight of the state’s nine American Indian tribes.
The alternatives initiative is a multi-state effort led and paid for, in part, by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation. The core philosophy is that detaining youth for petty crimes is the most costly, least effective way to deal with delinquency.
Doug Hoffman, a circuit judge and member of the alternatives initiative committee in Minnehaha County, likened the dependency on juvenile detentions to an addiction.
“South Dakota was addicted to detention. Maybe South Dakota is still addicted to detention. It’s a pretty tough pill to swallow when someone comes in and tells you you’re not doing it right,” Hoffman said. “We were in denial.”
In Minnehaha County, a shortage of space at an aging juvenile detention center forced the county to take the research seriously.