Katie Buschbach was not happy about South Dakota’s juvenile justice reforms. It was her job as a probation agent to bring kids in and keep them in line. As South Dakota pivoted from punishment to rehabilitation in 2015, “I was thinking, ‘This is going to be terrible,’” she tells Reveal, an investigative journalism website. “Nobody is going to be held accountable.”
Today, she says, “It’s the complete opposite.”
For decades, South Dakota had one of the highest juvenile incarceration rates in the nation, the podcast notes. Within three years of the reforms, the number of kids locked up in state facilities dropped by half, as did the state budget for juvenile justice. Ms. Buschbach’s job was actually cut, but she’s reinvented herself as a director of Davison County’s diversion programs, such as after-school activities. “We all make poor choices at some point, and it’s going to take repetition to learn that,” she says. “We’re teaching them how to make better decisions next time.”
It’s a lesson in how fresh and constructive thinking can make a difference, not just in budgets but in young lives.
Ms. Buschbach has seen juvenile recidivism in her community drop to about 8% – from a statewide average of 50%. She says, “The kids are getting a chance to make dumb decisions because they are a kid, but not be a criminal.”