Governor Dennis Daugaard's budget proposal includes a new Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative. A major part of the plan is to reduce the frequency and length of residential placements of juvenile offenders—i.e., put more kids on probation instead of yanking them from their homes and locking them up.
Why does that sound familiar? I turn back to my interview with then-District 33 Senate candidate Robin Page:
Education reform isn't just about money. Page sees the education of lots of low-income and American Indian youth suffering because of shortcomings in our juvenile corrections system. Juvenile offenders with mental health and addiction issues are often placed in out-of-state residential facilities. Such programs in places like Utah and Georgia cost $250 to $500 per juvenile per day. Stays in such facilities regularly last 12 to 18 months. When young people come back from such programs, they deal with enormous disruption in their schooling. Their friends have moved on. They feel out of place among younger, "normal" students. They often come from homes that lack the resources to pursue GEDs. But without a diploma, they can't get into vo-tech programs and land good jobs.
Page would like to break that cycle. Instead of sending kids and money out of state, Page would like to invest in treatment programs that would keep juveniles, especially Indian juveniles, closer to home and family and maintain some continuity in their education. Such in-state programs would make it easier for families to participate in family therapy and other more holistic approaches to help juvenile offenders get back on the right track [CAH, "District 33 Senate: Robin Page Seeks Balance, Voice for All," Madville Times, 2014.05.24].
Ship fewer kids off to expensive residential facilities, help them stick with their families and keep up with their studies, reduce their chances of offending again—that was Page's thinking, and it's the Governor's thinking.
Alas, with respect to American Indian youth, the Governor's initiative isn't making much of an extra effort. The JJRI includes one recommendation (out of twelve) to "conduct stakeholder outreach" and develop a pilot program for tribal youth. The Governor's recommended FY 2016 budget adjustments direct just $5,000 more to the Department of Tribal Relations for the JJRI, perhaps to supply the study group with coffee and donuts... and, we can hope, to give some officials some gas money to head out to Rapid City and hear more of Robin Page's ideas.
Daugard trying to catch up to conventional wisdom.
There was a time some years back where the City of Portland Oregon had fewer kids in detention than Minnehaha County. We changed that and now our county employees and commissioners are invited as presenters at National conferences.
As our population in JDC (the Juvenile Detention Center) has plummeted alternatives have proven their worth. Those alternatives, which include things as simple as calling the kid's parents, take some work but they do work.
There is more work to do.
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