South Dakota, West Virginia Reform Juvenile Justice System

Posted by Lori Cohen, MST Services

Jul 17, 2015 11:33:57 AM

Money earmaked for Evidence-Based Practices

It was only last June that South Dakota initiated a study on how to reduce the juvenile-incarceration rate. It was costing $140,000 a year for each youth commitment. Annual tuition at the University of South Dakota is only $13,904. And the returns on the commitment investment were not good. Forty percent of the adolescents were back with the Department of Corrections (DOC) three years after they were released.


Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Chief Justice David Gilbertson were not content with those numbers and set the state on a three-pronged approach to keeping more kids out of facilities. “South Dakota has a choice to make,” Gov. Daugaard said. “We can continue to place juveniles in expensive state-funded facilities that, for many, are less effective at reducing delinquency, or we can invest in proven interventions and treatment programs that keep our youth close to home and connected to their communities.”

Often, it takes years before an idea evolves into law. Not so in South Dakota.

South Dakota state legislature quickly passes reform bill 

Working with the Pew Trust, legislation passed by wide margins in the state House of Representatives and Senate with Gov. Daugaard signing it into law on March 12. Three million dollars a year will be spent on evidence-based interventions, on the lines of Multisystemic Therapy (MST) and Functional Family Therapy (FFT), to keep more at-risk youths out of placement. There have been few evidenced-based programs in the state before this. 

The Department of Social Services, Unified Judicial System and DOC will evaluate and decide which individual, group and family‐based interventions will be made available. One requirement for selection would be the programs “target moderate‐ to high‐risk youth and have been shown through research to reduce recidivism.”

West Virginia puts reforms in place, too

But South Dakota is not the only state to reform its juvenile justice system. Earl Ray Tomblin, governor of West Virginia, signed a bill on April 2 targeting a 16-percent reduction in residential placements, saving the state $20 million over five years.

It is believed the new law will reduce the number of youth in residential placements by at least 16 percent and save the state $20 million, if not more, over the next five years. It’s been costing $100,000 a year to keep a youthful offender in an out-of-home facility. Already $4.5 million has been spent on truancy-diversion programs, evidence-based interventions, and better data collection and training.

To date, there are no MST teams in South Dakota or West Virginia. With this new emphasis on evidence-based treatments with proven results, that might change soon.

Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform,

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