SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A panel that oversees reforms in South Dakota’s juvenile justice system says the state is making progress in keeping minors out of detention centers.

Before lawmakers implemented reforms in 2015, South Dakota had the second-highest juvenile commitment rate in the U.S.

The Juvenile Justice Public Safety Improvement Act Oversight Council released its annual report on Monday, which found a decline in new commitments of juveniles to the state’s Corrections Department.

“Over the last four years there has been a reduction by 56 percent of commitments of juveniles,” said Kristi Bunkers, a department official. “That is a huge win for kids and for taxpayers in the state.”

Bunkers said the decline is partly due to the introduction of a family therapy service provided by local mental health centers, the Daily Republic reported . The report found that 88 percent of families reported a positive change after completing the Functional Family Therapy program, which is managed by the South Dakota Department of Social Services.

The report also showed fewer probation violations reported. Bunkers said this is a result of more effective responses to violations by court services officers.

Mitchell Police Sgt. Joel Reinesch said there have been some “growing pains” with the reforms. Reinesch said that although any diversion program is often the preferred measure, they still have “some fairly hardened juveniles where more traditional criminal justice measures are the safest way to deal with those instances.”

Bunkers said they’re looking to partner with school districts next year to help assess services in the best interest of youth.


Information from: The Daily Republic, http://www.mitchellrepublic.com