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More support, better outcomes: South Dakota, Kansas have revamped their juvenile justice systems in recent years, and some early results are promising

by Katelyn Tye ~ March 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Since 2015, a big change has occurred in how South Dakota handles young people in its juvenile justice system.
“Some of these kids didn’t need to go to a juvenile detention center,” Rep. Julie Bartling says about the thinking behind the legislation passed that year (SB 73). “They just needed a little more support.”
Three years later, the state is starting to see results from this shift.
According to Kristi Bunkers, director of juvenile services for the Department of Corrections, the greatest advance has been the statewide expansion of three evidence-based programs that allow young people to receive treatment in the community rather than being detained at a residential facility or correctional center.
For example, through a three- to five-month-long intervention program known as Functional Family Therapy, a young person and his or her family work through family conflicts while addressing problems of drug abuse or a range of antisocial behaviors.
Of the South Dakota families who completed the program last year, 92 percent demonstrated positive behavioral change.
Like South Dakota, many states have been re-examining and, in some cases, overhauling their juvenile justice systems in recent years.
And while youth incarceration rates have declined significantly across the country (due to a decrease in violent crime and state decisions to defer low-level juvenile offenders from correctional facilities), reducing recidivism and improving other outcomes for youths remain a challenge, says Nina Salomon, a project manager with The Council of State Governments Justice Center.
In a 2014 policy brief, The CSG Justice Center outlines five core principles for states to follow when revamping their justice systems.
An evidence-based approach to policymaking helped inform not only South Dakota’s legislative reforms, but those made in Kansas in 2016.
Enough time has passed now to evaluate results in both those states. Meanwhile, a third Midwestern state, Wisconsin, is poised to embark on a systemwide overhaul of its own.
'Research and reform'
In Kansas, before introducing a package of reforms (SB 367), legislators and others took extensive steps to determine how the management of youth offenders could be improved.
“I saw the issues that were being faced in the juvenile justice system, heard testimony from those directly impacted by them, and saw the importance of research and reform,” Kansas Sen. Pat Pettey says.
Studies of the state’s juvenile justice system, including one conducted in 2015 by The CSG Justice Center, showed that while the juvenile arrest rate in Kansas had dropped more than 50 percent from 2004 to 2013, community supervision and residential commitment populations had not fallen at the same rate.
Additionally, the proportion of youths being placed in these out-of-home facilities for low-level offenses was increasing.
The studies also found that there was very little state or local investment in evidence-based alternatives to detention, nor were there clear sentencing policies for juvenile offenders. Instead, sentences were handed down at the discretion of probation officers or court officials and often included commitment to a residential center or correctional facility, costing the state more than $53 million a year.
“Some of us had questions about how fair our system was to kids,” says Randy Bowman, deputy director of juvenile services for the Kansas Department of Corrections.
In response to these findings, SB 367 included measures that restricted the placement of juvenile offenders in correctional facilities, focused the system’s most intensive rehabilitation programs on youth at highest risk of reoffending, and reinvested funds in evidence-based alternatives that allow many juveniles to be supervised in the community.
“Our biggest goal was to recapture money saved through the decline in incarceration and invest it in other community services for those in the [juvenile justice] system,” says Pettey, who serves on a committee that monitors implementation of the reforms.
Since the reforms were enacted, Pettey says, there has been increased cooperation between different branches of the juvenile justice system, a decrease in the number of youths in correctional facilities, and a rise in the type of treatment or sentencing options.
Last year, Kansas was able to shift $12.3 million in savings from the reforms to make three types of community-based treatment programs available across the state. The programs address common needs among youths who have a moderate or high risk of reoffending. They focus on individual behavior change, family-based therapy, and the assessment and treatment of juvenile sex offenders.
The state also established a grant program for counties to invest in local programs that serve youths involved with the justice system.
As a result, Kansas now has the capacity to provide approximately 4,000 juvenile offenders or their families with evidence-based programming each year. State data show, too, that since the reforms were enacted, the number of juveniles in out-of-home placements has declined by nearly 50 percent, while the number placed in a correctional facility for committing a misdemeanor offense fell by 70 percent.
According to Bowman, collaboration among county governments, state and local courts, and the Kansas executive branch has been especially critical to the state’s success in implementing SB 367.
For the next couple of years, he says, Kansas will be focused on measuring results, such as recidivism rates in its youth correctional and probation populations.
The state also is exploring ways to decrease the number of girls in custody, reduce the use of isolation in the juvenile correctional facility, and strengthen public-defense resources for young people.
Save dollars, then reinvest them
Passage of South Dakota’s SB 73, known as the Juvenile Justice Public Safety Improvement Act, was the result in part of an interbranch work group. It found that although juvenile commitments to the state Department of Corrections were declining, South Dakota still had the second-highest youth incarceration rate in the country.
Further, the majority of youth commitments were for status offenses (crimes based on the age of the offender, such as truancy or curfew), misdemeanor offenses and probation violations. “Before SB 73, we cast a very wide-open net,” Bunkers says. “Over-responding was definitely something that we did here in South Dakota.”
The state law has several overarching goals:
What the state has seen so far is promising: Between 2014 and 2017, the number of youths newly committed to a Department of Corrections facility has dropped from 220 to 96, and the total number in state custody decreased from 611 to 284.
Meanwhile, the availability and use of evidence-based programs such as Functional Family Therapy are on the rise: From 2016 to 2017, there was a nearly 72 percent increase in the number of juveniles referred to community-based programs by the courts, Department of Corrections or other entities.
An increase in the use of juvenile citations (similar to a traffic ticket) also provides evidence of systemic changes in South Dakota. These citations are used in lieu of arrests or the filing of a petition that would initiate formal court action.
In 2017, more than 3,000 citations were issued for offenses related to alcohol possession, truancy, property damage and petty theft. Youths who receive a citation may be required by the court to participate in a diversion program, pay a fine or complete community service.
In addition, new guidelines and a graduated-response matrix (established by SB 73) have helped the state improve probation outcomes by holding juvenile probationers more accountable through swift, certain and proportional responses to violations.
In the years since SB 73 was enacted, the number of youths successfully completing their term of probation has steadily increased — from 85 percent to 96 percent. State data also show that fewer juveniles are being adjudicated for a new offense within the first three years after being discharged from probation.
Lastly, the state’s recidivism rate for youths on probation has decreased in recent years from 59 percent to 32 percent, while the rate for those released from state custody dropped from 20 percent to just 8 percent.
Looking ahead, South Dakota officials will continue to monitor the outcomes of the 2016 reforms and make decisions about where to direct the money saved by diverting youth from correctional facilities.
“In my opinion, the only way to reinvest [that money] is back into the communities where these children live and provide the programs that can help them stay out of trouble, stay in school and go on to college or a career after high school,” Bartling says.
Pursuing a new 'Wisconsin Model'
Wisconsin took steps this year to become another Midwestern state to overhaul its juvenile justice system. In February, before adjourning for the year, the state Assembly voted unanimously in favor of AB 953.
The bipartisan bill calls for the closure of two of the state’s juvenile detention centers by July 2020 and requires each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties to establish a plan for housing low-level offenders. The bill also would create a study committee to develop recommendations on locations for the new local detention facilities and rules for how to govern them.
The proposal comes after a federal judge, in response to allegations of inmate abuse at one of the state’s juvenile facilities (Lincoln Hills), ordered the state Department of Corrections to make significant changes, including reducing the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray.
In January, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced plans to convert Lincoln Hills into an adult correctional building and build six smaller youth facilities around the state for Wisconsin’s most serious juvenile offenders, including one new mental health center in Madison for girls.
In a press release, Rep. Michael Schraa, chief Republican sponsor of AB 953, said the “trail-blazing legislation” would “address public safety with secure facilities, while treating underlying causes and rebuilding lives, close to home and close to the community.”
He and the bill’s chief Democratic sponsor, Rep. Evan Goyke, say AB 953 will create the state’s own approach to juvenile justice reform called the “Wisconsin Model.” At the time of publication, AB 953 was pending approval by the state Senate.


CSG working with states to improve juvenile justice systems, public safety and youth outcomes

Through the work of an ongoing initiative of its Justice Center, The Council of State Governments is helping states examine their juvenile justice systems and make improvements to them. The comprehensive, data-driven Improving Outcomes for Youth project provides technical assistance and focuses on three questions:
1) What are the recidivism rates and other outcomes for youth under supervision of the justice system, and is data collected and used to track, analyze and improve these outcomes?
2) Are resources used efficiently to provide services for youth most at risk of reoffending, and are the services that young people receive demonstrated to be effective?
3) Are young people matched with the appropriate level and length of supervision based on their risk of reoffending, and is supervision focused on addressing their risks and needs?
Since launching the IOYouth, The CSG Justice Center has worked in two states, Nevada and New Mexico, bringing together bipartisan groups of stakeholders to develop consensus-based policy solutions.
As a result of the project’s findings in Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed AB 472 into law last year. It requires the state and local departments of probation to implement a “validated risk-assessment instrument” to ensure young people receive the appropriate level of supervision (based on their risk of reoffending) and are matched with the appropriate type of services based on their criminogenic needs. The Nevada law also allocates state dollars for evidence-based practices and requires the collection, tracking and reporting of uniform performance measures.
The Justice Center has been in discussions with a number of states interested in the IOYouth process. For more information, contact Nina Salomon: nsalomon@csg.org.


Katelyn Tye serves as staff liaison to the Midwestern Legislative Conference Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee.


From statewide reform to new DNA testing: Examples of recently enacted criminal justice policies in Midwest

In 2017, a year after a report showed the extent to which Illinois’ expungement policies have failed juveniles with criminal records, state lawmakers simplified the process for young people and also strengthened confidentiality protections. The intent of HB 3817 was to remove barriers that keep individuals from accessing opportunities in employment, housing or education that often require a background check.
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In Indiana last year, the General Assembly approved legislation that will require all individuals arrested for a felony to submit a DNA sample via cheek swab, along with fingerprints, photographs and other data during the booking process. With the passage of SB 322, which took effect in January, Indiana joined 30 other states that allow DNA samples to be collected from suspects arrested for felonies. Previously, the state only allowed DNA to be collected after a conviction.
Iowa lawmakers in 2017 voted unanimously to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug felonies. SF 445 made about 200 inmates serving time in Iowa prisons for Class C drug sentences eligible for parole in July of last year. Additionally, the bill allowed judges to reconsider and adjust sentences for any Class C or D felony within a person’s first year in prison. The new law also reduced the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.
Last spring, the Kansas Department of Corrections announced that improvements to the state’s juvenile justice system had resulted in $12.3 million of savings that would be reinvested in evidence-based programs for juveniles. These savings were the result of SB 367 — a bill from 2016 that restricts the placement of certain juveniles in correctional facilities, provides intensive supervisions for the highest-risk juveniles, and directs resources to evidence-based alternatives to incarceration. In March 2017, Kansas closed one of its two juvenile correctional facilities.
Michigan legislators approved 18 bills last year to update parole policies and help prevent repeat criminal offenses. For example, the Department of Corrections is creating a “Parole Sanction Certainty” program for high-risk parolees in at least the state’s five largest counties. In addition, parole and probation programs will be required to employ evidence-based practices. Other measures redefined recidivism, established an expedited commutation process for prisoners with medical conditions, and limited the maximum sentence for technical violations of parole to 30 days for the first three violations.
Minnesota has begun requiring all of the state’s approximately 11,000 police officers to go through special training in conflict de-escalation, mental health response and implicit bias as the result of a bill passed in 2017. The Legislature appropriated $6 million for the police training, which began this year. Officers are required to undergo a minimum of 16 hours of training every three years.
Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill in 2017 that requires probation officers to use graduated response sanctions and incentives for juveniles who violate the terms of their probation. One goal of LB 8 is to prevent young people from being sent to detention for minor technical violations. The new law also added a requirement that, following a probation violation, a juvenile’s probation officer must be seeking revocation of probation before a county attorney can file a motion to do so.
In 2017, North Dakota lawmakers passed a suite of bills that aim to curb the state’s correctional costs, reform its probation and parole systems, and increase access to community-based behavioral health programs. SB 2015, HB 1041, and HB 1269 were the product of a justice reinvestment study authorized two years ago by the North Dakota Legislative Assembly. The CSG Justice Center assisted  state policymakers in this study by reviewing the factors behind North Dakota’s rising prison population.
In November 2017, Ohio’s Criminal Justice Reinvestment Committee held its first meeting, where The CSG Justice Center presented a study on recent criminal justice system trends and committee members discussed potential areas to explore over the course of the project. This bipartisan group of policymakers is focusing on new challenges in Ohio related to violent crime and opioid use, as well as persistent issues related to probation supervision, sentencing and prison costs.
Low-level drug offenders in South Dakota who undergo substance abuse treatment and successfully complete one year of probation or parole may be eligible for a reduced supervision sentence under legislation enacted in 2017. The goal of SB 117 is to address South Dakota’s methamphetamine problem and allow the state’s probation resources to be directed toward high-risk drug offenders.
Last summer, a federal judge in Wisconsin ordered the state’s Department of Corrections to make a series of changes at its juvenile facilities, including reducing the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray on inmates. In part, the injunction barred the state from placing youth in solitary confinement for minor infractions or nonviolent offenses and limited the maximum length of placement in solitary confinement to seven days.