Inside the state Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)
Young adults, ages 18 to 25, represent roughly 10% of South Dakota’s population but 25% of arrests, according to Greg Sattizahn, state court administrator with the Unified Judicial System.
Those “emerging adults” are the most incarcerated group based on penitentiary numbers and are the most likely group of state prisoners to recidivate, or return to prison within three years of their release.
South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Jensen wants to change that.
House Bill 1063, which would assemble a task force to study services for that age group involved in the justice system, was introduced at Jensen’s request last week. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill Wednesday and sent it to the House floor.
Sattizahn testified in support of the bill, saying that people in this age group are still developing mentally and socially, which makes them more prone to peer influence, diminished foresight and risky behaviors that could land them in the criminal justice system.
But the criminal justice system treats a 19-year-old the same as a 50-year-old.
“When an individual has contact with the criminal justice system it has a ripple effect on their lives,” Sattizahn told the committee. “It’s going to start to impact their educational opportunities, it’s going to start to impact their employment, it’s certainly going to impact societal and family relationships.”
On the flip side, the “emerging adult” age group is more likely to “rebound” than older adults with intervention, mentorship and counseling, Sattizahn said.
“What can we do differently?” Sattizahn said. “If we continue to put that person back there, into society, and there’s not those support mechanisms and … they recidivate again, that means that we’re spending more and more time and dollars and money and space for those individuals as they work through the system.”
The task force would:
- Identify best practices for supporting emerging adults involved in the criminal justice system.
- Create joint training opportunities for justice system professionals and partners.
- Seek opportunities to expand diversion programming to “avoid criminal conviction” for the age group, Sattizahn said.
- Explore ways to overcome housing and employment barriers for emerging adults once released, as well as probation and parole supervision practices.
- Recommend how to develop culturally responsive, community-based mentoring programs for emerging adults.
- Recommend alternative or additional funding structures for supportive services for emerging adults.
The group would comprise at least 11 people representing the state Unified Judicial System, Department of Corrections, Department of Education, Department of Labor and Regulation, Department of Social Services, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and community-based providers.
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