Codington County (SD) Takes Steps to Limit Prison Time for Children, Mentally Ill

Watertown Public Opinion

By J.T. Fey

Codington County Commissioners took two steps they hope will eventually help prevent kids and the mentally ill from spending much time in prison. The commissioners first voted 5-0 to authorize chairman Myron Johnson to sign a memorandum of understanding to establish the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Committee. JDAI’s basic function is to provide better methods than incarceration for teenage lawbreakers.

JDAI was established 20 years ago by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and has steadily been adopted by states ever since. The commissioners’ action was to establish the county’s support of the program. The supporting institutions of JDAI include county, city, judicial and school leaders, among others.

The other action that received a 5-0 vote was the commissioners’ agreement to adopt a charter for the Behavioral Health and Justice Working Group (BHJWG). Commissioner Lee Gabel, who has been a leader in both JDAI and BHJWG, explained the latter as a follow-up to the 2015 Stepping Up resolution that deals with the same issue.

“This 2015 resolution states our intent to deal with the issue of mental illness in the jail, but not a lot of the ‘how’,” Gabel said. “The charter adopted today explains more clearly how we are going to improve our ability to deal with this issue.” Gabel also said the charter will improve how the working group functions by documenting clearer structure, goals and tasks.