One aspect of how juveniles are handled in the state detention system is changing. The nation-wide Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, or J.D.A.I, is showing up in South Dakota juvenile detention facilities. The initiative seeks to change incarceration protocol for juvenile offenders across the state.
Rapid City and Sioux Falls juvenile detention centers began participating in the J.D.A.I., or the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative two years ago. The initiative looks at implementing changes to the traditional jail-cell or hard-lock-up type incarceration that South Dakota youth have experienced in the past.
The core principal advocates instead to shield youth from incarceration and to offer home detention as an alternative.
The J.D.A.I. is funded by the Anne Casey Foundation which strives to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the juvenile justice system in America.
Joe Guttierez is the Commander at Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center in Rapid City. He says statistical data led many to realize that improvements to the state’s current juvenile detention system are necessary.
“You know what really sparked J.D.A.I. was that South Dakota was number one in the country per capita with kids out of home in placements, but yet on that being said, you know we had the lowest violent offender crime rate in the country. So that didn’t kind of correlate,” says Guttierez.
Officials began to take measures. Rapid City’s original Juvenile Detention Center was built to house thirty kids, and officials say it was full in just three years.
Pennington County Commissioner Don Holloway remembers those days. He spent forty years in law enforcement and was a Sherriff in Pennington County for twenty-eight of those years. He says it used to be commonplace for law enforcement to lock minors up for offenses like smoking, running away from home, and skipping school.
“We were working in this thinking we were doing the right thing but once you start looking at it you see that we’re not being very effective the way we’re doing it. And frankly we were putting some kids in that should have never been in juvenile detention,” says Holloway.
Holloway says incarceration of first-time offenders helps to perpetuate kids winding up in detention facilities again later in life. He says he and his colleagues are concerned about the high rate of juvenile reoffenders they see.
“We were putting them in and ultimately rotating them through the system so many times that they become used to it and it wasn’t a deterrent at all,” says Holloway.
Holloway says the courts want to hold juveniles accountable for their actions but were putting kids behind bars because there were no other options at the time. He says in reality throwing them in a detention center was actually introducing them more deeply into the criminal system.
Although there have been many efforts at reform, the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative seems to fit today’s needs and has support across the state.
Liz Heidelberger is the J.D.A.I. Coordinator in Rapid City. She says although J.D.A.I. is a relatively new concept, the Rapid City juvenile detention system is already showing signs of success.
“That is really the goal of the entire J.D.A.I. and all of the alternatives is we don’t want to set up these kids to fail. We want to keep them out of lock-up, out of the detention center, but we also do not want to have them commit new offenses, and we want them to show up at court and not get that failure to appear,” says Heidelberger.
Heidelberger says utilizing current staff to ensure juveniles are meeting these obligations has helped, and more than seventy percent of recent juveniles are doing better as a result. She says that the initiative simultaneously helps youth, lessens the burden on local courts, and keeps community members safe.
Commissioner Don Holloway agrees. He says making incarceration alternatives available is kind of like getting back to the basics. He says it is a mind-shift.
“So it’s really a philosophy – part of what you’ve got to do when you’re putting one of these initiatives in place in a community is you’ve got to get all the players at the table and they’ve got to buy in to the new concept and seeing it doesn’t look like what we’ve been doing for the last hundred years has been working very well and lets step outside the box and try to figure out another way to deal with it,” says Holloway.
Holloway says local officials in Rapid City are receptive to the J.D.A.I. partly because it is cost-effective.
Jeff Davis agrees. Davis has been a Judge in Rapid City for more than thirty years. He says J.D.A.I. pays for itself by using current allotted funds– it isn’t costing tax payers extra.
“It is a collaborative effort in the entire community and we’re doing it without taking or putting additional resources to it, it’s just a redirection, and that’s vital to make it work,” says Davis.
While the financial savings are compelling indicators of success for supporters, Don Holloway says there's another reason to keep the initiative going.
“Keeping a kid in Juvenile Services Center here in Rapid City is about two-hundred-twenty-five dollars a day and if we can reduce that by ten kids a day; take that two-hundred-twenty-five times three-hundred-sixty-five days out of the year, you’re talking a lot of money that we can take a portion of that, redirect it, and hopefully have a much better result at the end,” says Holloway.
Rapid City’s Juvenile Services Center aims at better results and includes detention, but focuses more on making better choices, prevention, support, and rehabilitation.
Commander Joe Guttierez says the J.D.A.I. is helping Rapid City’s Juvenile Services Center to expand its services.
“When a kid comes here they’re going to get the care they need, we’re going to find out what the issues are and we’re going to help that family get back on track so when they do leave here at least they have some skills for their toolbox to go home in and maybe be successful,” says Guttierez.
Guttierez says he hopes the kids at J.S.C. learn from their experience and that they take the skills they’ve learned and apply them to their lives.