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UJS says study needed for young adult offenders


The Unified Judicial System is proposing a study of young adult offenders, to determine how to handle them in the criminal justice system. That study is on its way to becoming reality, after House Bill 1063 was passed on Wednesday, Jan. 18, by the House Judiciary Committee with a unanimous vote.

The state court administrator for UJS told the committee that people committing crimes between the ages of 18 and 25 are subject to the same treatment in criminal courts as older offenders.

But Greg Satterzahn said the brains of those young offenders have not yet completed development, and so the courts need to take a new approach.

“Because of their age, they’re more prone to engaging in risky behaviors, more vulnerable to peer influence, and are more likely to have diminished foresight,” he said.

Satterzahn said less than 10 percent of the state’s population is between 18 and 25, but that age group accounts for around 25 percent of the state’s crime.

They represent the highest population in prison and those most likely to reoffend. But he said that age group is also more treatable.

“If we intervene in an appropriate way, provide mentorship, counseling, whatever that response is, they’re more likely to rebound than a person that’s more set in their ways,” Sattizahn said.

Terry Dosch is executive director for the South Dakota Council of Community Behavioral Health. He testified at the hearing that putting young offenders into a system designed for mature adults results in missed opportunities for mental health and addiction treatment, employment, and community support.

“This population, they’re not kids. They’re not adults, per se,” he said. “We take these kids, these young people that we can influence, we can treat, and we move them into a situation of becoming felons, and their whole life is compromised and the opportunity for recidivism is maximized. A life is going to be lost.”

Dosch said the proposed UJS study of this age group can address the unrealistic expectation that young offenders will come out of prison prepared for success.

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007.