Criminal Justice

South Dakota Legislature Moves to Reform Juvenile Justice System


Yesterday, the South Dakota House of Representatives passed the Juvenile Justice Public Safety Improvement Act, legislation that aims to strengthen the state’s juvenile justice system by safely prioritizing spending on the most serious offenders. The legislation now goes to Governor Daugaard for his signature.

The passage of the comprehensive juvenile justice reform follows on the success of South Dakota’s Public Safety Improvement Act of 2013, bipartisan legislation aimed at fixing the adult criminal justice system. Through principles and ideas similar to those found in its adult-focused predecessor, the Juvenile Justice Public Safety Improvement Act will prioritize spending on violent juvenile offenders while placing nonviolent juvenile offenders under supervision and into community-based programs.

The legislation was the result of the findings of the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative Working Group, a bipartisan and inter-branch group charged with developing a set of recommendations for South Dakota’s juvenile justice system. The Working Group found that juvenile imprisonment cost taxpayers anywhere between $41,000 and $144,000 per bed every year. Despite these levels of spending, 45 percent of youth released from a residential facility in South Dakota return to custody within three years. South Dakota leaders decided their communities, youth and taxpayers deserved more.

The Juvenile Justice Public Safety Improvement Act implements community-based programs proven to reduce the likelihood of re-offense, a move that will not only help juveniles more successfully re-enter society but also increase public safety. The savings realized by reducing the number of nonviolent juvenile offenders in out-of-home facilities will be available for reinvestment in evidence-based programs that will reduce recidivism rates and ultimately lead to a more effective juvenile justice system.

Public safety should be a top priority of state governments, and an effective criminal justice system is one that makes the best use of taxpayer dollars while protecting the public. South Dakota’s Juvenile Justice Public Safety Improvement Act will keep more youth safely supervised in the community, while holding both offenders and juvenile justice programs accountable for results.

In Depth: Criminal Justice

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