JurisdictionUnited States
AuthorHess, Wedny
Date22 September 2017

    Two years after reforming its adult criminal justice system, South Dakota passed broad reforms of its juvenile justice system. The 2015 South Dakota Juvenile Justice Public Safety Improvement Act ("JJPSIA") is a comprehensive and bipartisan legislative effort designed "to overhaul [South Dakota's] juvenile justice system." (1) South Dakota is one of "a handful of states... enacting laws to reduce secure confinement, strengthen community supervision and focus resources on practices proven to reduce recidivism. These policies are projected to save millions of taxpayer dollars, with the savings reinvested in proven interventions to produce better outcomes for our nation's youth." (2) These "Smart on Juvenile Justice" states are "leading the nation through the data-driven process of statewide legislative juvenile justice system reform." (3)

    The juvenile system overhaul began in 2014 when state leaders initiated the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative ("JJRI"). (4) The JJRI work group set out to collect data and meet with stakeholders to gain an informed understanding of the juvenile justice system's performance. (5) The goal of JJRI was to promote public safety, hold youth accountable, invest in "evidence-based community interventions," and preserve "residential facilities for serious offenders." (6)

    Evidence-based policymaking is the systematic use of findings from program evaluations and outcome analyses ("evidence") to guide government policy and funding decisions. By focusing limited resources on public services and programs that have been shown to produce positive results, governments can expand their investments in more cost-effective options, consider reducing funding for ineffective programs, and improve the outcomes of services funded by taxpayer dollars. (7) This article first provides an overview of several common juvenile justice practices and indicates which of those practices have been found to be effective. (8) Next, this article examines South Dakota's recent juvenile justice reforms including pre-reform concerns, the reform model the state followed, and major findings and recommendations from the JJRI. (9) This article then describes South Dakota's broad legislative reforms and the current status of the reform effort. (10)


    Two of the main objectives in the establishment of the first juvenile justice system were rehabilitation and protection of the child. (11) These practices continued into the 20th century until the 1960s when the nation faced increased rates of recidivism and juvenile crime. (12) In the late 1980s, rehabilitation was replaced with a new "get tough on crime" approach. (13) Between 1985 and 1995, there was nearly an 80% increase in arrests of juveniles 17 years old or younger for violent crimes. (14)

    The shift away from rehabilitation led to drastic increases in youth detention populations across the United States. (15) The youth detention population reached its highest number in 1995, when there were 107,637 youth confined in one single day. (16) Detention numbers declined 24% from 1997 to 2007 and continued to fall at three times that rate from 2006 to 2010. (17) The decline in the use of detention has not resulted in an increase in juvenile crime. (18) In fact, as the use of detention decreased 41% from 1997 to 2007, there was a "27% drop in juvenile arrests for violent index crimes." (19) "Despite historic declines in arrest rates over the past two decades, too many young people--and, disproportionately, youth of color--continue to come into contact with the juvenile justice system." (20) Most of these youth "are associated with a nonviolent offense, many are at relatively low risk of reoffending, and few will continue offending into adulthood." (21)


      1. Detention (22)

        "A growing body of research demonstrates that for many juvenile offenders, lengthy out-of-home placements in secure corrections or other residential facilities fail to produce better outcomes than alternative sanctions." (23) Detention facilities are extremely expensive to operate. The United States spends $6 billion annually just to incarcerate juvenile offenders. (25) The national average cost to incarcerate one juvenile for an entire year is over $88,000. (26) This money is expended on a practice that research shows has very little impact on reducing recidivism. (27)

        a. Why Youth Are Detained

        According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a leader in research and advocacy for the use of evidence-based practices to help disadvantaged children, three reasons youth end up placed in detention are lack of community-based services, detention for low-level offenses, and lack of mental health services. (28)

        The first reason youth end up in detention is that there are no programs or services available to serve the youth in the area they live. (29) Within the same state, there are often extensive resources in larger, more populated cities, but few, if any, providers are willing to travel to less populated areas with a smaller population to serve. (30) Counties and local juvenile courts are often faced with the choice of using their own funds to pay for community treatment or sending youth to a state-run facility at no cost to the county. (31)

        A second reason many youth end up in detention is for technical probation violations or status offenses, not new delinquent behavior. (32) In these cases, the court is often punishing defiance, not delinquency. (33) Many youth in detention are in custody for repeated rule violations or disrespectful behavior towards a judge, probation officer, or another authority figure. (34) Forty percent of youth in secure detention are being held on violations of probation or aftercare and other offenses that do not pose a threat to public safety. (35) The decision to detain based upon a violation of probation or aftercare is often at the complete discretion of the probation officer supervising the youth. (36) Data from 2010 revealed that only one out of every four children in detention were detained for one of the violent index crimes. (37)

        Finally, a juvenile detention center often becomes a place to discard youth who would be more effectively served by another agency. (38) Since the 1990s, juvenile detention facilities have become a "dumping ground" for youth with mental health issues. (39) Youth with mental illness would be better served by community mental health resources, but when many residential youth mental health facilities closed during the 1990s, "uncontrollable" or "untreatable" children ended up in the juvenile justice system. (40)

        b. Detention Does Not Reduce Recidivism

        Incarceration has been shown to encourage the delinquent behavior it aims to prevent. (41) Facilities often have too few staff and too many kids, creating an environment ripe for "neglect and violence." (42) Children released from detention showed a 75% re-arrest rate three years after release. (43) A Florida study from 2007 showed that youth with lower risk profiles subject to time in detention re-offended at a higher rate than youth with the same risk profile who were left in the community. (44) These low-risk youth "not only re-offended at a higher rate than similar youth who remained in the community, they also re-offended at a higher rate than high-risk youth placed into correctional facilities." (45) In addition, evidence does not support that incarcerating youth for longer periods of time achieves reductions in recidivism. The amount of time a child spends in detention is commensurate with their rate of recidivism.

        c. Detention has a Disruptive Impact on School Attendance, Performance, and Future Employment

        Placement in detention can be extremely disruptive to school attendance, even for a short period of time. (48) Research suggests that once a juvenile is placed in detention, it is probable that the child will not return to school. (49) Even if the child does return, upon re-enrollment to school, the student is more likely to be categorized as disabled due to a social or behavior disorder. (50) Youth spending time in detention at any point in their life are 39% less likely to graduate from high school than youth who have never been detained. (51)

        Youth who have served time in detention show a much higher rate of learning disabilities. (52) Children entering detention previously diagnosed with learning disabilities receive the necessary special education services less than half of the time. (53) The average youth in detention scores approximately four years below their grade level. (54) Education services offered to youth in detention are often interrupted due to the lack of qualified teachers, overcrowding at the facility, and transfer of children from one facility to another. (55)

        The result of these subpar educational services partly manifests itself in youth being 5% less likely to find employment even four years after release from confinement. (56) For African American youth, the reduction in available employment is even higher, at 9%. (57) If able to find employment, the former juvenile offender works fewer hours than employees who were never incarcerated, even fifteen years after being released from detention. (58)

        d. Detention is Often Unsafe for Youth

        Sexual and physical abuse within detention facilities has been well documented in multiple studies. (59) The abuse reported is systemic in nature and has been documented in thirty-nine of fifty states. (60) A 2010 survey completed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that 12% of the 26,650 juveniles surveyed reported sexual victimization by staff or other juveniles at their facility. (61) Half of those surveyed reported the use of physical force, threats, and coercion. (62) Finally, youth suffering abuse in detention suffer from pervasive psychological problems after returning to the community...

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