South Dakota Governor Signs Critical Juvenile Justice Legislation

South Dakota Governor Signs Critical Juvenile Justice Legislation

Governor Dennis Daugaard signed into law on March 13, 2015, comprehensive juvenile justice legislation that will protect public safety, focus state-funded facilities on serious offenders, increase accountability, and contain costs. The legislation, Senate Bill 73, follows the successful reform of South Dakota’s adult criminal justice system in 2013 and emerged through a bipartisan, interbranch process led by the governor, Chief Justice David Gilbertson, and legislative leadership.

The new law is based on policy recommendations from the South Dakota Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative Work Group. With technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the bipartisan, 17-member team analyzed youth arrest, court, probation, and corrections data, and reviewed research on effective ways to reduce juvenile delinquency, including studies about evidence-based practices and the limited impact of residential placement.

When fully implemented, the reform package is expected to decrease the number of youth in residential placements in South Dakota by over 50 percent and cut costs by more than $32 million within five years. By expanding access to evidence-based community interventions, the new law will:

  • Prioritize expensive residential placements for youth who pose a public safety risk.
  • Prevent deeper involvement of lower-level offenders in the juvenile justice system.
  • Reduce recidivism rates.

The legislation also ensures the quality and sustainability of reforms by reinvesting the savings in community-based programming, which will lead to better, less expensive outcomes for youth, their families, and the state’s taxpayers.

The work group found that South Dakota has not been realizing a strong public safety return on residential placements for juveniles—which cost up to $144,000 per youth per year—but that courts have had few alternatives because evidence-based interventions have not been available in many communities: The population of youth committed to state-funded facilities has been overwhelmingly made up of low-level offenders. Additionally, more than 4 in10 juveniles released from the Department of Corrections have returned to state custody within three years. These data made it clear to state officials that they had significant opportunities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the juvenile corrections system. The work group’s full report can be viewed here.

Pew’s public safety performance project and its partners have assisted more than two dozen states, including Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Texas, with similar data-driven analyses and consensus-based policy recommendations.