- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - State lawmakers should make changes to South Dakota’s juvenile justice system to reduce the number of youth committed to residential programs in Department of Corrections, a task force said Monday.

The recommendations from the South Dakota Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative Work Group aim to heighten public safety while reducing state spending, much like the broader criminal justice overhaul the state initiated in 2013.

The group, which included lawmakers, judges, and representatives from the governor’s office and corrections department, found that South Dakota had a juvenile commitment rate in 2011 that nearly topped the nation and that 75 percent of juveniles are committed for misdemeanors and other minor violations. The overhaul would shift priorities toward committing only violent and more serious offenders and using diversion options for others.

The task force recommended limiting the time juveniles can stay in out-of-home placement, capping the length of probation and increasing diversion options, such as community service or drug testing.

“The goal is to have fewer youth coming into our court system while at the same time providing more resources for our court services officers to hold juvenile probationers accountable and address their behaviors in the community, rather than expensive residential facilities,” South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson said in a news release accompanying the report.

The state said that adopting the proposals could reduce the projected number of out-of-home juvenile commitments in South Dakota 64 percent by 2020 and could reduce the number of juveniles on probation by nearly 30 percent. For fiscal year 2014, the state had budgeted $34 million for the committed juvenile population, spending between $41,000 and $144,000 per bed yearly.

The report did not give an estimated total savings for its recommendations.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard will outline his budget priorities - which could include funding for some of the recommendations - to lawmakers on Tuesday.

“Our job is to produce the best possible results for taxpayers at the lowest possible cost, and that’s exactly what this plan does,” Daugaard said in the release. “It will help get our troubled youth back on the right track while cutting the high cost of the system.”

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