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Grant funds boost juvenile offender diversion program driven by art

Eva Bareis
SDPB Flickr

What is the power of a mural? For kids involved in the legal system, it could be the kind of positive activity that keeps them from reoffending.

One South Dakota county is ready to give them that chance.

The Pennington County States Attorney’s Office announced this week their participation in JUMP, or the Just Us Mural Project, at the juvenile diversion office.

Director of diversion Kim Morsching said they see change in kids who try and get involved.

“It’ll be youth who are in diversion, but also youth in our Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center, there will be classes over there also," Morsching said. "We’ve discovered, even with our previous art classes, young people who are engaged in art projects have behavior changes.”

Morsching said many of these kids need the chance to consider another path.

“Giving them this extra opportunity really helps them seal that deal," Morsching said. "Also, many youths have challenges in their life, so giving everybody these opportunities can help open up an opportunity in their future they might not have seen before.”

She said opportunities like this matter, even for those who aren’t in the legal system.

“Diversion diverts young people from the formal court process," Morsching said. "Taxpayers should pay attention to it because it saves tax dollars. We’re not employing attorneys to handle these cases, we’re not taking judges time, we’re not taking court time – the value and cost savings is great. When we can work with a young person to target specifically what they need – trauma therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy – to make differences in their lives, we have great outcomes.”

Funding for the program is coming from a $50,000 Department of Justice grant and is in partnership with the Rapid City Arts Council.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture