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SD locking up fewer kids

By Bob Mercer

Capitol Correspondent

PIERRE — A different response to juvenile crime led to many fewer youths locked up in Rapid City and Sioux Falls during recent years. Soon it will be tried in other parts of South Dakota.

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Known as JDAI — short for Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative — the program’s management recently was taken over by the state courts system. Chief Justice David Gilbertson, the courts’ top officer, wants to broaden JDAI’s use.

“This is really a promising program,” Gilbertson said in an interview. “We’ve had a test drive here. We know it works.”

Home detention, electronic monitoring bracelets, evening-attendance centers and shelter care are some of the methods used rather than lock-ups.

The state Council on Juvenile Services began the experiment in 2010.

Seeking to reduce the numbers of juveniles locked behind bars in local and state facilities, the council sought help from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. JDAI is advocated by the foundation.

The council and the foundation worked with the state Department of Corrections and with judges and law enforcement in Pennington and Minnehaha counties to establish the JDAI approaches there.

JDAI relies on a points-based risk assessment index. It helps determine whether a youth would be best released to parents, or should be placed in a secure setting, or needs alternative supervision.

Among the considerations are difficult situations involving family members.

The conversion to JDAI was followed by large decreases in youths being sent to local secure detention centers and state correctional facilities: a three-fourths reduction in Minnehaha County and nearly a two-thirds reduction in Pennington County. Probation caseloads went down, too.

Circuit Judge Jeff Davis, of Rapid City, serves on the state council and introduced the JDAI concept to the chief justice.

“When they showed me the results in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, I thought, ‘Wow, this is a program I’d like to see statewide,’ ” Gilbertson said.