SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — The South Dakota legislature will likely revisit the issue of juvenile justice when lawmakers gather in Pierre next month for the start of the 2020 session. Members of the South Dakota Fraternal Order of Police are raising new concerns about a rise in juvenile crimes since the legislature enacted reforms back in 2015.
The Fraternal Order of Police is calling on state lawmakers to meet with law enforcement and community leaders to explore new ways of addressing juvenile crime. The organization says there’s been a statewide increase in serious crimes committed by kids, sometimes as young as 12.
South Dakota authorities say state lawmakers had good intentions in changing how to deal with young offenders. But they say it’s time that those reforms from 2015 be re-examined to see what’s been working and what hasn’t worked.
“Part of what they wanted to do is set up alternatives to incarcerations and there are some alternatives that are being effective when they are available, but not in all communities,” Milstead said.
Milstead says part of the problem has been that many juveniles no longer believe they’ll be penalized for committing crimes that before would have meant serving time in a detention center.
“I think there are concerns among police officers, people in our schools we talk with that the consequences have been lessened or in some cases, eliminated,” Milstead said.
Because of that lack of accountability, Police Chief Matt Burns says an increase in juvenile crime in Sioux Falls could be an unintended consequence of justice reform.
“We have seen an uptick over the past several years that includes incidents of stolen vehicles, vandalisms, burglaries, robberies. So, many of the same types of crimes that we track across the spectrum involving adults, juveniles are participating in those same kind of crimes and it’s having a bad impact on our community,” Sioux Falls Police Chief Matt Burns said.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Milstead says even students should be involved in the public discussion because everyone has a stake in seeing juvenile crime go down.
“To make sure that our children are safe, our communities are safe and that the impact of the justice reform and the intent of justice reform are being met,” Milstead said.
We also spoke to State Representative Kevin Jensen of Canton, who’s a member of South Dakota’s Juvenile Justice Oversight Council. He says he’d like to see the legislature provide judges with more leeway in handing down sentences to include the possibility of locking up certain repeat offenders.
The South Dakota Department of Corrections cites data from the attorney general’s office that show a decrease in juvenile arrests from 2014 to 2018 for car thefts, aggravated assault and robberies. But there were increases in arrests for weapons violations and simple assaults.