Davison County Commission leaders Tuesday put their support behind a plan to hire a new employee to help develop the county's alternative programs to juvenile detention.

Jim Miskimins, the county's state's attorney, is applying for a grant that would help create a coordinator position for developing the county's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative program, or JDAI. The application was approved Tuesday by the commission during its regular meeting at the Davison County North Offices in Mitchell.

The grant will be submitted to the South Dakota Department of Corrections and the South Dakota Council on Juvenile Services. Miskimins said the council was looking to support three quickly growing county-level JDAI programs in Brown, Codington and Davison counties.

"Every way we can help avoid sending kids to detention, we're helping them," Miskimins added. "The state's ability to help them has become way more limited. The facilities, the programming, isn't there. If anyone is going to help our kids, it's us."

Miskimins said the grant would help cover the estimated salary of $37,500 annually, plus equipment and benefits for one employee who would work in the state's attorney's office, and help relieve some of the duties currently falling on court services employees. Miskimins said he foresees the new hire working to apply for reimbursement from state funds set aside for diversion programs, along with working with private nonprofits to help create programs to assist at-risk youth. The new position would also keep track of data and report on the progress of the program.

"Those in the system and those that might end up there, we want to help those kids get a better start," Miskimins said.

Davison County has been working on its JDAI program since June 2017, when then-First Circuit Court Presiding Judge (and current South Dakota Supreme Court Justice) Steven Jensen approved setting up a court-approved diversion program in the county. The goal is to use multiple law enforcement agencies to build relationships with young people and their families to help children avoid court.

That blessing from the First Circuit Court still remains, and Miskimins said a letter of support from Judge Patrick Smith - a former Davison County State's Attorney - will be included in the grant application.

Miskimins said, if approved, the funding would likely support the position for two years. After that, he said the county would be expected to help fund the role.

"I think if you like the concept, you're putting your skin in the game - assuming we're successful - on an ongoing basis," he said.

Miskimins said he also intends to get involvement from the city of Mitchell, and he's also interested in starting a nonprofit foundation that would help support the ongoing position and building programs for juveniles and at-risk teenagers to participate in. He suggested the Davison County Fairgrounds could be a good spot for a mentoring program to be located, because it has room for activities, a kitchen, and large rooms for schoolwork to be done.

Miskimins, who has been one of the leading advocates for juvenile detention reform in the area, said the program in Davison County could have been applied in 75 cases of truancy or underage consumption of alcohol or drugs in 2018. In many instances, first-time offenders would be enrolled in online classes and, if necessary, training through local alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers.

Miskimins said social science research has shown that detention centers are often more harmful than they are productive. One method that might be used more in South Dakota is family functional therapy, where a therapist can work through a number of issues with a child and the family if the prevailing issues are complex.

"It's not pigeonholed to one area or the other, it can look at a broad spectrum of issues," said Miskimins, noting that the therapy sessions can look at why a teenager is stealing or committing assaulting and see what's at the core of the issue.

Miskimins said he expects to receive word on the status of the grant by July. Commission Chairwoman Brenda Bode said she had little doubt the Mitchell community would be generous in helping with the program.

"I don't think we're going to be at a loss for getting help," she said. "Hopefully we can be a model for our other communities. We just need to help."

Other business

In other business, the commission:

• Approved a $100 donation, on behalf of the county Sheriff's Office, to the Salvation Army, in response to the organization's efforts to feed meals to first responders who helped with the search and rescue of the fatal car crash in the James River on April 3.

• Tabled a request from Kevin Kalkman, of Farm and Home Publishers, regarding plat books and mapping files for the company's 2019 books. Bode said no decisions will be made on the sale of the files to map makers until the county revisits its policies.

• Approved extending the rental of a smaller excavator for the county Highway Department, as the Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg said he expects a few more weeks of roadwork following the April storms, with 15 more culverts to install, mostly in Beulah and Tobin townships.

• Meeting as the Board of Adjustment, approved requests for variances: Ryan Storm for a front yard setback of 35 feet rather than the recommended 40 feet, and Glenn Olsen for a minimum lot size of 3.1 acres, under the minimum of 25 feet. (Commissioners Randy Reider and Kim Weitala were absent, but Weitala joined the meeting via telephone for the Board of Adjustment portion.)

• Also meeting as the Board of Adjustment, approved the following plats: Lots 1 and 2 of GRS Addition in the south half of the north half of the north half of the southeast quarter of Section 3 in Prosper Township; as requested by Gerald Schulz; and Tract A of Storm's Addition, in the northeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 30 in Tobin Township in Davison County; as requested by Ryan Storm.

• Approved previous meeting's minutes and heard board reports.

• Approved fuel quotes, bills, timesheets, acknowledged volunteers, the auditor's account with the treasurer, and approved abatements.