A wide-ranging discussion took place during the first meeting of the interim study on juvenile justice.
The Study Committee on Juvenile Justice began it’s work last week (6/16) hearing testimony from more than 10 individuals connected to the matter whether through schools, law enforcement agencies or in the juvenile court system.
Student truancy served as one of the main talking points from the three superintendents who spoke to the committee with Sioux Falls Superintendent Dr. Jane Stavem noting her district saw a big increase in truancy referrals this year that correlated in “a trend of decreased student attendance.”
Avon Superintendent Tom Culver added his school’s truancy filings to the local state’s attorney’s office are not being dealt with due to the busy schedules that office faces.
“In reality, it’s not happening,” Culver said on their truancy filings being dealt with in the court system, but stated there’s not fault with the state’s attorney’s office as they are also hampered by time and resources.
Wagner Community Superintendent Matt Yost cited a lack of “resources” being an issue in dealing with juvenile offenders in the rural districts.
“We can come up with how we can help this student,” Yost said, “but barriers are there” and “having the resources is hard.”
Yost also shared his school district has “double digit numbers” of students “just gone” as a result of a change to the homeschool enrollment process implemented this school year.
“It really falls on the school district find these kids,” Yost shared with the 15-legislator committee.
While that responsibility falls upon some school districts, Rapid City PD Lieutenant Tim Doyle said the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders needs to be dealt with “outside the schools.”
“I don’t want to put more on the schools,” Lt. Doyle said. “I think we need to figure this outside the schools.”
Dealing with that process outside of schools requires a watchful eye over the student’s progression through the system.
“The goal is to get them through the court process and not let them fall through the cracks,” Minnehaha County Juvenile Detention Center Director Jamie Gravett said.
Community response teams, alternative schools, restorative justice training, alternative schools, telehealth and ways to connect schools to needed resources were among the initial ideas discussed to keep juvenile offenders from falling through the cracks.
“This is a very broad topic. I think there are a lot of directions we can go,” Rep. Caleb Finck said, adding the plan is to “split this committee up into” four separate workgroups to tackle the different areas prior to the interim committee’s next official meeting, which is tentatively set for September.
While the group takes the first steps in collecting and studying information about the current juvenile justice system and resources available, Sen. VJ Smith has one ultimate goal.
“I just want to see us put together some strong ideas,” Sen. Smith requested of the committee.
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