Governor's Column: Juvenile Justice Reforms Showing Promising Results
Office of Gov. Dennis Daugaard
500 E. Capitol Ave.
Pierre, S.D. 57501
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, March 31, 2017
CONTACT: Tony Venhuizen or Kelsey Pritchard at 605-773-3212
EDITORS/NEWS DIRECTORS: Please consider the following column from Gov. Dennis Daugaard. For an audio recording of the Governor’s weekly column, visit news.sd.gov/media.aspx and click on “Audio” under “Governor Dennis Daugaard.”
Juvenile Justice Reforms Showing Promising Results
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
This week, the juvenile justice reform oversight council released its first annual report. The report encapsulates the progress made in the first full year of implementation of the 2015 Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative.
Before the 2015 reforms went into effect, South Dakota had the second highest juvenile commitment rate in the country and was 188 percent above the national average. This ranking was not explained by a higher rate of juvenile violence. In fact, South Dakota’s juvenile violence arrest rate was just one-third of the national average.
Our high commitment rate was driven by nonviolent offenses. Seven of every 10 youth committed to the Department of Corrections in 2013 were sent to them for misdemeanor offenses, probation violations and “status offenses” – violations which, if committed as an adult, would not even be considered crimes. The status offenders were removed from their homes and sent to the Department of Corrections solely for disciplinary reasons, not to rehabilitate them.
The 2015 reforms restored the Department of Corrections to the role it was designed to fulfill – a correctional entity for serious or dangerous offenders. Now, only those juveniles fitting that description can be committed.
However, just because a non-violent youth isn’t committed to DOC does not mean that he or she will not face consequences. Just like Newton’s third law of motion, there is an equal and opposite reaction for every action. Every time a juvenile misbehaves, there is an appropriate response to that behavior. The reforms established a graduated response matrix to help address bad behavior and incentivize good behavior.
In addition to the response matrix, the juvenile reforms provided a number of effective programs for youth offenders, including community-based programs to address substance abuse, antisocial tendencies or challenges within the family. The programs allow youth to get the help they need without being removed from their homes.
While I realize it is easier to incarcerate misbehaving youth, it comes at the expense of the child. Our Midwestern work ethic doesn’t urge us to do things the “easy” way – in South Dakota we do things the “right” way. Addressing behavioral concerns in the community allows juvenile offenders to remain in school, gain employment and avoid future delinquency.
As the numbers indicate, the reforms are working. Since the passage of the reforms, new commitments to DOC have declined 43 percent and the number of recommitments has declined 62 percent, from FY 14 to FY 16. Nearly 70 percent of diversions from the juvenile justice system during that time period were completed successfully, and 94 percent of youth completed their term of probation.
It is still very early, and it will take some time before we see the full impact of these reforms. Still, early indications are hopeful, and I am committed to executing these new policies well. The system may not be perfect, but the data shows that we can successfully and efficiently discipline juveniles in the community.