Troubled youth receive help from Pennington County program

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In 2015, the South Dakota State Legislature enacted the Juvenile Justice Public Safety Improvement Act to lessen the reliance of incarceration to solve youth and family problems. But Pennington County had already recognized the need 2 years prior.

Lutheran Social Services and the Pennington Country Sheriff’s Office partnered to create an alternative to detention among youth. As a result, The Arise Youth Center was formed in 2013, as part of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative in Pennington County. Funded by Pennington County and various grants, it has since served 2,000 youth.

Program Director of Arise Youth Center, Mark Kiepke, says the goal is to help low-level youth offenders.

“We see youth that come in with issues with chemical dependency and mental health issues, possible medical issues, school or family relationship issues,” Kiepke says.

There are several different components to the program, each evaluating and helping youth with their next steps.

The Reception Center is the initial starting point for law enforcement when a minor is detained. Once at the Reception Center, youth will be assessed to determine if they can be released to a parent, need a different alternative or detention. A child can spend up to 24 hours in the Reception Center, giving a guardian time to arrange transportation.

Another option is the Shelter Care Program. The program has served 1,000 juveniles and provides temporary care. It’s a care facility where a child can stay for up to 30 days. During that time, the program assists youth and their guardian through a screening process to identify needs and community resources along with a discharge plan.

Kiepke says there’s also a runaway and homeless program within the Shelter Care Program, which has served 150 youth.

“That program is a volunteer program,” he says. “Youth cannot be forced to stay in that program. They’re here really on their own free will, and we’re providing them a shelter as well as case management services."

The Shelter Care Program can house up to 16 youth at a time, with the average stay being 8 to 10 days.

A minor is discharged either upon approval of the court or when they complete their disposition.

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