Since 2015, a big change has occurred in how South Dakota handles young people in its juvenile justice system. “Some of these kids didn’t need to go to a juvenile detention center,” Rep. Julie Bartling says about the thinking behind the legislation passed that year (SB 73). “They just needed a little more support.”
Three years later, the state is starting to see results from this shift.
According to Kristi Bunkers, director of juvenile services for the Department of Corrections, the greatest advance has been the statewide expansion of three evidence-based programs that allow young people to receive treatment in the community rather than being detained at a residential facility or correctional center. For example, through a three- to five-month-long intervention program known as Functional Family Therapy, a young person and his or her family work through family conflicts while addressing problems of drug abuse or a range of antisocial behaviors. Of the South Dakota families who completed the program last year, 92 percent demonstrated positive behavioral change.
Like South Dakota, many states have been re-examining and, in some cases, overhauling their juvenile justice systems in recent years.