Counseling, probation replace
The juvenile justice system in South Dakota transformed over the past
six years following the death of a teenager girl at a state-run boot
camp that touched off a heated debate over how to handle young
State officials are keeping more troubled teens in local programs and
sending many of the hard-core offenders out of state. There are a third
fewer new kids coming into the corrections system each year and the
mothballed juvenile prison at Plankinton still sits empty.
The change in philosophy toward intensive probation and counseling
rather than incarceration, has drawn praise from longtime critics of the
system. But it's also meant more money from taxpayers' pockets.
Since 1999, the amount of money the state spends to
oversee the teens has nearly doubled to about $29 million this year.
Some lawmakers wonder why, with the rising costs, corrections officials
don't consider reopening the State Training School in Plankinton, the
former home of a boot camp and prison. The state says the local programs
have decreased the numbers to the point where the training school isn't
necessary and the extra money is worth it in the long run.
“I think we are investing in youth and we won't be paying for them in
the adult system,” said Doug Herman, director of juvenile services for
the South Dakota Department of Corrections.
Keeping kids at home
The key is to honestly assess what the young person's problems are and
then target those issues, said Herman. When that is done, it makes it
less likely the teen will reoffend and come back into the system as
adults, he said.
But it also means they might need therapy and treatment in programs not
run by the state, which can cost more. Out-of-state placements can run
as high as $350 a day compared to the $120 a day for in-state programs.
Susan Randell was a vocal opponent of the juvenile corrections program
in the past. Today, the state is more interested in keeping young people
at home and offering counseling and rehabilitation rather than
punishment, she said.
“The tone of it was very punitive,” she said. “We're still talking about
youth. They are not yet adults. We are talking about rehabilitation.
That doesn't mean we coddle them. I don't think these programs coddle
The juvenile justice issue became personal for Amy
Sims after a nightmarish weekend when her daughter, Haily, left with
friends and didn't come back.
Haily had already been in trouble – skipping school, missing curfew and
not coming home.
“I called friends and I drove around,” said Amy Sims of Sioux Falls. “I
went crazy. You don't know if they are alive or dead.”
Sims decided she needed help and filed a Child in Need of Supervision
petition with local law enforcement. That meant her daughter would enter
the juvenile justice program in South Dakota. It also meant giving up
some control of her daughter as she appeared in court, was sentenced and
began probation and counseling through Lutheran Social Services.
It worked for the Sims. Amy said she's seen huge changes in her
daughter. Haily says she's learned to communicate with her mom and feels
like the counseling sessions have showed that not all the problems lie
She has since cut ties with some of her former friends.
“I think about my decisions more. I think of what the
consequences are,” Haily said. “I just wanted to be with my friends.
Their parents would let them do whatever they wanted to do and I had to
Fewer boot camps
Parents who have had their children in juvenile corrections have not
always had that positive response.
Former Gov. Bill Janklow oversaw the development of the juvenile prison
and military-style boot camps in the mid-1990s. The system came under
stiff criticism in 1999 following the death of 14-year-old Gina Score
who died after a forced run as an inmate of the girls boot camp program
Following that death came charges that children were being incarcerated
for minor offenses and being subjected to military-style discipline that
went too far. Legal action against some former employees at the school
and a lawsuit filed by some former inmates followed. Those suits have
all been settled.
In 2001 with a decrease in the number of juveniles being placed with the
Department of Corrections, Janklow closed the 113-year-old State
Under current Gov. Mike Rounds, the Corrections
Department has moved toward the intensive probation programs and
contracts with private agencies. Those programs have the added benefit
of qualifying for federal funds.
Margaret Gramkow, who organized Parents Who Care, an advocacy group for
parents with children in the corrections center at that time, said the
system is better than it was. But she and others wish the state would
try harder to keep families together.
“They're devastated that their kids are taken away and they wonder what
they can do,” she said, referring to parents who still call her for
advice. “I know a lot of parents who have bent over backwards and they
still don't get their child back. Maybe family life isn't perfect, but
it's their home. I always thought the motive was to keep families
While her group isn't as active as it once was, Gramkow said juvenile
corrections still needs a watchdog. “We have to make sure things never
get out of hand like they did before.”
Judges say they don't want to take youngsters out of their home but
there are times when that's what is best for the child.
Judge Timothy Jones, of the Fourth Judicial Circuit in western South
Dakota, said he likes intensive probation in which a probation officer
is available to check on the youngster several times a day to see that
they are in school and not getting in trouble.
But that is not always an option. Sometimes children have to be sent
away from home because it's not safe for them to stay there.
“The Department of Corrections is supposed to be the last resort,” said
Judge Arthur Rusch of the First Judicial Circuit in Vermillion. “We're
seeing more kids who are throw away kids. You feel they would be better
off in the Department of Corrections. I don't know if kids come out of
these places better off. They pick up bad habits, just like we worry
about adults doing in jail.”
Changing risk factors
The Department of Corrections deals with approximately 1,000 young
people under its jurisdiction at any one time.
The number of new juveniles sentenced to the Department of Corrections
has dropped since the fiscal year 1998 when it hit 528. Last year there
were 353 juveniles sentenced to corrections.
Corrections Secretary Tim Reisch said the first choice of his department
is to find a program for a youngster so they can remain in their
community or in South Dakota. The state operates several programs itself
and also places young people with 20 different private agencies in South
It also relies on 10 programs in state including Iowa, Minnesota,
Wyoming and Montana and in rare cases Utah and Colorado. Herman said
normally about 25 to 30 young people are placed out of state.
Herman said the state has adopted so-called “experience-based
practices,” a philosophy that calls for understanding risks and needs of
the young person, the peer group they associate with, their educational
level, there ability to be employed and how they think about situations.
The theory is that if you change those factors you can
change a child.
“It's a combination of not just punishment, but also treatment,” he
said. “You want kids to behave but because they choose to behave.
Unfortunately, many of the kids who come into our system have never had
Prevention and treatment
Herman said the boot camp approach – still operated for boys along with
several other programs near Custer – works for some young offenders.
“There's a lot of advantages to having a very structured environment,”
he said. “The military model serves to provide an environment where you
can deliver the five or six things that prove effective.”
Kelly Bass, a counselor at Lutheran Social Services, said other
approaches can also prove effective with young offenders. Bass ran the
program the Sims participated in. It included seven weeks of counseling
with 46 juvenile offenders and their families.
The youth and parents met separately for most of the sessions and talked
about the situations that eventually lead to the child into the court
“This is more of a prevention program to keep those kids out of a
facility,” he said. Six months after the program 41 percent of the
youngsters had not reoffended and just five of the kids had eventually
been turned over to the Department of Corrections.
“For us that's a success,” he said. “We're trying to improve the whole
family dynamic. There's a shift to seeing kids get as much opportunity
in our community before something real restrictive is used.”
The program was funded with a $40,000 grant from the
South Dakota Coalition for Children. The program was not funded for a
second year, but Bass said his agency might eventually seek funding for
the program again.
Todd Cheever, who worked in Department of Corrections programs before
becoming director of the Juvenile Detention Center in Sioux Falls, said
he too has noticed a change in the state approach taken to juvenile
“I don't know if the Gina Score death was the start of that,” he said.
“I think there was a new philosophy with this administration. There was
a different mind set under a different administration. The pendulum has
swung back to reasonableness and treatment.”
Cheever said the department relies on several agencies and programs to
help young people including McCrossen's Boy's Ranch and Summit Oaks in
Sioux Falls, privately-operated facilities.
“They are assessing the youth and they are not saying, 'One size fits
all,'” he said.
Lee Schoenbeck, a state senator from Watertown, said part of the reason
changes came was so that the state could come into compliance with
federal guidelines and be eligible to receive federal dollars.
“I think you could find people in law enforcement who would say the way
we're doing it isn't the best. But it's warm and fuzzy and it gets us
federal dollars,” he said.
Schoenbeck said he and other legislators are concerned about how many
young people are placed in programs out of state because their needs
cannot be met here.
State Sen. Gene Abdallah of Sioux Falls said it's time for the state to
look at ways the facilities at Plankinton could be reused because the
state is spending money to maintain the building while it sits empty.
Abdallah said every effort should also be made to take care of South
Dakota young people in the state, especially when the cost of some of
the out-of-state placements is considered.
“There are kids that we were paying $344 a day for.
You can stay at the Waldorf Astoria for less than that,” he said. “If
we're going to spend that kind of money and still give them the quality
of care we should do them in the state,” he said.
Corrections Secretary Reisch said he wishes a new use could be found for
the Plankinton facility because it costs his department money to
maintain it while it sits empty. But he says the chances of it reopening
as a state-run facility are slim.
A private firm, Cornell Companies, operated out of the facility for
three months last year before shutting down after a disagreement with
the state over compensation rates.
The state doesn't have enough young people with similar problems to
operate a program at Plankinton, Reisch said. In the past about 100
young people were there with a range of problems and offenses. The state
now prefers specialized programs for young people, many of which qualify
for federal funding, he said.
“Some of the kids who ended up on that campus had failed at other
programs. The state didn't have options so tried to make them work at
Plankinton,” he said.
The closing of the State Training School also means that there are no
placement options for some of the toughest offenders and those young
people may be going out-of-state.
Paul Ritter of Summit Oaks, a residential program for troubled youth in
Sioux Falls, said a third of their residents come from the Department of
The facility is currently expanding. Ritter said his organization would
like to be able to accept more young people from corrections when that
construction is done. Ritter said it comes down to the issue of how much
money the state can pay for those placements.
If the state could come up with more money for in-state placement it's
possible some young people could be returned to the South Dakota from
out-of-state placements, he said.
Circuit Court Judge Glen Severson of Sioux Falls said he understands
that people might be skeptical of juvenile corrections. When he took
over the juvenile cases here he first travelled to the state's juvenile
facilities to see if he was comfortable sending young people there.
Severson said he and other judges try a number of
approaches to rehabilitate young people before they are turned over to
the Department of Corrections.
He said young people can't be treated the same as adult offenders, but
neither can they be coddled.
“The stated purpose of juvenile court is the rehabilitation of the
child,” he said. “Rehabilitation does include a punitive element where
you make someone accountable for their actions.”
7 August 2005