PIERRE, S.D. — The state of South Dakota is locking up fewer juvenile offenders than in previous years.

New data from the governor’s office show that since juvenile justice reforms were implemented in 2015, the number of juveniles being incarcerated has dropped more than 50 percent.

“It appears to me that it’s worked the way it’s intended,” said Fifth Circuit Judge Scott Myren. “We are improving public safety, holding offenders accountable and using the resources in our community to do it.”

The state committed more than 200 juveniles to the Department of Corrections in fiscal 2015, the Argus Leader reported . In fiscal 2017, that number dropped to less than 100.

Officials said it’s not that fewer children are committing crimes in South Dakota, but rather the threshold has been raised for types of crimes that could put them behind bars.

“I suspect the same crimes are probably occurring, but there are criminal offenses that no longer allow juveniles to be sent to the DOC because they have been determined, and I think appropriately, that they’re not the type of offenses that warrant having these kids removed from the community,” Myren said.

Five years ago, the state had one of the highest juvenile incarceration rates in the country. That statistic led to the launch of the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative through which Gov. Dennis Daugaard created a work group in 2014 to study the issue and propose solutions to reduce the number of children behind bars without compromising public safety.

Rep. Julie Bartling, D-Gregory, said that although the reforms have made progress, there’s still room for improvement. She said she’d like to see more reform in rural South Dakota that relate to including families when working with children.

“We need to focus on how we can help youth that gets in trouble find resources closer to home,” Bartling said. “So they can stay in their homes, or with a family member, and not be committed to the Department of Corrections, and receive necessary treatment.”


Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com