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Troubled kids need faster intervention

lege JUV JUSTICE w Caleb Finck.jpg
State Rep. Caleb Finck

Authorities need to act more quickly and decisively when dealing with juvenile delinquency. That’s one conclusion of a legislative interim committee on juvenile justice, which reported to the Executive Board of the Legislative Research Council on Nov. 15.

The interim committee’s task has been to find ways to prevent troubled kids from landing in the courts and detention centers. Many of the committee’s solutions rely on faster and stronger responses for intervention.

Rep. Caleb Finck chaired the interim committee that met several times over the summer to talk about juveniles in trouble.

He told the Executive Board that aspects of existing law get in the way. For instance, a set of 2013 reforms in juvenile justice provided for professionals within the community to unite to help a troubled child. But he said that team isn’t allowed to act soon enough.

“That community response team only gets activated basically after the entire court system process has played out and they’ve exhausted basically every single option available to them,” he said.

Finck said the law should be amended to allow for a faster response.

He also said the legislature should make changes to another 2013 reform, one that favors probation and doesn’t allow the Department of Corrections to get involved with delinquent children unless certain criteria set in statute are met. DOC is the state agency that runs programs that can include placement of children in detention, treatment, and foster care centers.

Finck said the result is a “catch and release” system: juveniles offend, they go before a judge, they’re put on probation, they reoffend, they go again to the judge, they’re again put on probation.

“We’re not doing that individual any good by teaching them the system is just going to keep letting them offend and offend and offend and offend,” he said.

Finck suggested changes in the statute to allow for a three-strikes response: a juvenile who commits the same crime more than three times becomes eligible for DOC services.

“So not necessarily that we’re going to put these kids in juvie,” he said. “There’s a whole host of other services that are available. But it’s simply saying that at a certain point in time, after you’ve committed the same offense several, several times, this inevitable circle has got to stop.”

The interim committee on juveniles was one of several state groups making reports to the Executive Board. That board, in turn, will study recommended legislation and report to the full legislature during the upcoming session.

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