The South Dakota Senate has approved a plan to cut the state's prison costs by treating more nonviolent offenders in community programs.
Senators voted 31-2 Thursday to pass the bill and send it to the House for further debate.
The measure is based on recommendations made by a panel appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson and legislative leaders.
The plan seeks to divert offenders from prison and prevent them from committing future crimes. It would use intensive probation and parole, along with expanded courts to treat drug and alcohol offenders.
Officials say if nothing is done to stem a rapid increase in the number of inmates, South Dakota will have to spend $212 million in the next decade to build and run two new prisons.
A similar problem arose in the state's Juvenile Detention Center as well.
About two years ago, the Juvenile Detention Center in Sioux Falls was also experiencing overcrowding, so members from every level of the juvenile justice system came together to implement a new initiative in some counties that is already making a big impact.
"With the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative we have seen a lower number of cases that are even being filed," said Minnehaha County Juvenile Court Judge Doug Hoffman.
The number of new juvenile delinquent cases filed in Minnehaha County decreased by 34 percent from 2009 to 2012. The Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) was also implemented in Pennington County where there is also a significant decrease in new juvenile cases.
It's a difference the Juvenile Detention Center in Sioux Falls is also noticing.
"On January 23rd in 2011 we had 53 kids here. January 23rd, 2013, we had 14 kids here; so it's a huge difference that it makes, a huge drop," said JDC Director Todd Cheever.
This nationwide initiative works to create alternatives to secure detention centers such as GPS monitoring devices, probation, evening report centers and GPS monitoring devices.
"The JDAI model is to provide other options that work better and cost less money for the tax payers," said Judge Hoffman.
Minnehaha's JDAI director Erin Srstka says it costs about $230 a night to house a juvenile in the detention center while home detention or electronic monitoring costs less than $35 a day.
"We're saving the Juvenile Detention Center for kids that we're concerned are actually a danger to the community," said Judge Hoffman.
The new system is also generating better results for juveniles in the system.
"The former paradigm was spend a few days in the JDC and you'll shape up and fly right, but experience shows that often times that isn't what would happen," said Judge Hoffman.
Today the courts have fewer cases and more option to provide appropriate responses for each individual child, keeping them out of trouble and out of the system down the road.
"The numbers at the JDC have gone down significantly and the outcomes for kids have also been significantly improved," said Judge Hoffman.
These juvenile court representatives said the initiative worked so well and so fast because all parties involved collaborated to create the best solution for everyone. A goal the Adult criminal justice reform committee is also working towards.
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