Press Release: Governor Unveils Juvenile Justice Legislation

Governor Unveils Juvenile Justice Legislation

PIERRE, S.D. – Building on the success of earlier reforms to the adult corrections system, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, legislative leaders and Chief Justice David Gilbertson today unveiled legislation designed to improve outcomes for youth in South Dakota’s juvenile justice system and cut costs.

Joined in the Senate chamber by Chief Justice David Gilbertson and legislative leaders, Gov. Daugaard said the Juvenile Justice Public Safety Improvement Act focuses expensive juvenile facilities on youth who pose a safety risk and expands the use of effective, community-based interventions for youth who commit less serious offenses.

“South Dakota has a choice to make,” Gov. Daugaard said. “We can continue to place juveniles in expensive state-funded facilities that, for many, are less effective at reducing delinquency, or we can invest in proven interventions and treatment programs that keep our youth close to home and connected to their communities. We are seeing success with our adult reforms of 2013. Now is the time to improve our juvenile system as well.”

Highlights of the landmark legislation include:

§  Focusing expensive facility placements on youth who pose a public safety risk

§  Preventing youth who commit lower-level offenses from deeper involvement in the juvenile justice system

§  Improving outcomes by expanding access to evidence-based interventions in the community

§  Ensuring the quality and sustainability of reforms by establishing an oversight council

According to the most recent national statistics, South Dakota has the second highest juvenile commitment rate in the country, a surprising ranking given the state’s very low juvenile violent crime arrest rate. Costs are significant; the state spends up to $144,000 per year for residential placement for each youth committed to the South Dakota Department of Corrections, mostly for misdemeanors and other low-level violations.

“Juvenile corrections facilities were built for youth who present a real threat to public safety. But the kids who are removed from their families and placed in the custody of the state are far too often low-level rule breakers, misdemeanants and non-violent,” said Sen. Alan Solano. “We can do better by our kids, families and communities by shifting policy and resources toward strategies that work better and cost less.”

Motivated by the high commitment rate and early success of the 2013 Public Safety Improvement Act (SB 70) that transformed South Dakota’s management of adult offenders, the Governor and Chief Justice established the 17-member Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative Work Group in June of 2014. After six months of meetings with more than 200 stakeholders and an exhaustive review of juvenile justice data, the bipartisan, inter-branch work group developed policy recommendations to increase public safety by improving outcomes for youth, families and communities; enhance accountability for juvenile offenders; and contain taxpayer costs by focusing system resources on serious offenders who pose a public safety risk.

Unanimously endorsed by the work group, these recommendations are reflected in the Act filed by Daugaard today. If approved, the package of policy changes will protect public safety while ensuring South Dakota’s taxpayer dollars are used as efficiently as possible.

“The proposals in this bill have the potential to significantly improve our juvenile justice system, by reallocating dollars to places where they are most effective,” said Chief Justice David Gilbertson. “With the implementation of these policies, we will be able to not only treat the juvenile, but also address the juvenile’s family. Too often we remove the juvenile and fail to look at what is going on at home that might be contributing to the child’s behavior. The family needs to become part of the solution.”

Taken together, the policies are projected to reduce the Department of Corrections juvenile population in residential placement by more than 50 percent, decrease the number of youth on probation by more than 25 percent by 2020, and greatly expand the array of services available for juvenile offenders and their families around the state.

The work group’s full report is available on the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative website, located at jjri.sd.gov.

The Act to Improve Public Safety In Juvenile Justice earned the endorsement of Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Chief Justice David Gilbertson, Attorney General Marty Jackley, State’s Attorneys Association, Sheriffs’ Association, Association of County Commissioners, Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, Association of Youth Care Providers, Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Voices for Children, and the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative Work Group and the co-sponsorship of 92 legislators.

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