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Alternatives For Juvenile Offenders

December 12, 2011, 5:09 PM by Brady Mallory

Alternatives For Juvenile Offenders
SIOUX FALLS - A few years ago, South Dakota was ranked number one with the most juveniles behind bars per capita.

The number has since dropped because of increased efforts to give kids and teens under 18 more options than just the juvenile detention center.

The approach to helping and handling juvenile offenders is not a simple process.

"We want to make sure these kids come to court and won't re-offend until court," Erin Srstka, Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative Coordinator, said.

Not all kids and teens in trouble with the law qualify for detention because they are not considered high risk. Srstka said there is a need for alternatives to help low to medium risk offenders who might have high needs.
Two options the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative will use include about $15,000 from Minnehaha County for electronic monitoring, and a $100,000 federal grant for reception centers in Sioux Falls and Rapid City.  The centers will help get the right kid in the right place at the right time based on their needs.

"It's a temporary screen and sort center. Our reception center will have a waiting area, couple of separate rooms for counseling, a kitchen, bathroom, a shower in case the kid wants to shower," Srstka said.

Resources like this reception center will not take a one-sized fits all approach.

"It's not just a kid got in trouble, but it's for family re-unification, chemical dependency, resources for parents that they can access if they need to help their kids with something," Srstka said. 

On December 13, a steering committee will decide when to put these alternatives to action. The goal is to have them up and running in January to better serve troubled youth in Sioux Falls.

"Instead of putting a kid in detention, we still want to hold them accountable. We want to place them somewhere based on their risk," Srstka said.

Similar alternatives in other parts of the country have helped decrease the incarceration population in other states by 40 percent.

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