Study finds problem areas in ND’s juvenile justice system

Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 6:54 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 24, 2020 at 9:50 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - North Dakota’s juvenile justice system is under very close scrutiny. Last year, the legislature approved the study of juvenile justice laws.Now, the answers are available.

The state’s Division of Juvenile Services is using the state approved study to point out areas of improvement. A work group, started just one month ago, has added to and rewritten many parts of the Uniform Juvenile Court Act.

The act hasn't been extensively studied or updated in almost fifty years.The study was conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

It’s helped many other states with their reform efforts.”They’ve helped approximately half of the state’s reform their juvenile justice systems, so it’s not like we’re making an effort here to just jump off the cliff to unknown territory, this is fairly proven ground,” said the Division of Juvenile Services Director, Lisa Bjergaard.

Depending on where a juvenile lives, the study also found that is indicative of whether or not a youth will receive the proper resources.

”Some schools focus on trying to keep youth in school, while other schools are more likely to refer youth to the juvenile justice system. Some law enforcement agencies have established extensive diversion efforts, while in other communities those youth are referred directly to court. In some communities there’s mental health and substance use services, in other communities those services don’t exist,” said Council of State Governments Justice Center Director, Josh Weber.

The Justice Center’s main recommendations include decriminalizing unruly behaviors, reducing how often youth are detained to only when they’re a threat to public safety, and increasing community services available for youth statewide.

They hope this will lower the number of juveniles entering the system. Juvenile Services leaders said the bill draft still needs considerable work.

They said they’ll be taking additional feedback into consideration before introducing a more complete draft at the end of September.

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