Juvenile Justice Annual Report released, local officials give input

By  | 

The intent is to lower the number of youth behind bars in the State of South Dakota, that's why the Juvenile Justice Public Safety Improvement Act was put in place by the State Legislature in 2015.
Now, two years later, the Juvenile Justice Annual Report shows progress after our state had the second highest juvenile commitment rate in the country.

Pennington County Deputy State's Attorney Sarah Morrison, who prosecutes juveniles and is also a member of the Juvenile Public Safety Improvement Act Oversight Council says although the number of juveniles put on probation has gone up, the juvenile diversion program has proven to be successful with a success rate of 89 percent.

Pennington County Deputy State's Attorney, Sarah Morrison, says, "I'm very impressed with what we're doing statewide, trying to keep juveniles out of court with me, because although I like my job, I don't want to see lots of kids coming through court. I consider that, kind of in a way, a failure that we haven't figured out how to help them and it culminates in them coming to court."

Morrison says the number of juveniles being sent to the Department of Corrections is down now that the new requirements see some of those youth sent other places.
Commander Joe Guttierez at the Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center says locally, they're seeing more juveniles using meth, but agrees we have one of the best diversion programs in the state.

Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center Commander Joe Guttierez says, "Education and prevention are keys to helping young people make better choices. I think when you get to be an adult and you're stuck in a pattern, you continue to go down that pattern over and over and over, but as a juvenile if we can give them some tools in their tool box to make better changes when they go back to whatever program, or family, or whatever situation they came from, they have a better opportunity."

According to the state report, between 79 and 92 percent of youth released from custody, did not return to custody.