JDAI efforts in Minnehaha County, South Dakota, to reduce the number of nonviolent youth in detention may allow the county to avoid building a $14 million facility. "We were strongly considering building a new detention center just 18 months ago," County Commissioner Jeff Barth said. "It looks like now we'll be OK for the foreseeable future."
In 2010, commissioners weighed in on an independent contractor’s recommendation that Minnehaha would need to replace its 61-bed juvenile detention center to accommodate new growth. The contractor called for a new 100-bed facility. Minnehaha commissioners are rethinking the recommendation in the wake of a significant decrease in average daily population at the center, a decrease mirrored statewide.
Between 2000 and the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011, the state Department of Corrections’ average daily youth population fell by 31 percent, from 1,141 to 790. Minnehaha County detention center director Todd Cheever told county commissioners the average population there had dropped from 45 in January to 25 in May. Cheever also predicted the lower numbers would allow him to shift resources within his department budget to alternatives to detention.
Over half the juveniles jailed at the detention center in 2009 were held for probation violations, such as drinking, or technical infractions as minor as skipping school or smoking cigarettes, according to the county’s detention utilization study.
“We are now reviewing each individual intake to find the least-restrictive method of pretrial supervision that is commensurate with public safety and the best interests of the child involved,” said Douglas E. Hoffman, Circuit Court judge, Second Judicial Circuit. “In this process we are putting to greater use the many viable alternatives to secure detention that are already available in our community … and working collaboratively with community leaders to develop new alternatives.”
Minnehaha implemented a risk assessment instrument in July. Before that the county’s probation officers changed a policy under which probation violators were automatically detained. Probation officers now discuss detention alternatives with their supervisors.
“Reducing the detention numbers at the juvenile detention center has freed-up funds that can be re-allocated to other more effective methods without increasing costs to the taxpayers. We are already seeing positive results from these efforts,” Hoffman said.