Lincoln County to apply for juvenile diversion coordinator grant
The roughly $70,000 per year grant would allow for the hire of a juvenile diversion coordinator — focused on determining appropriate alternative punishment for youth offenders — for three years.
CANTON, S.D. — The Lincoln County State’s Attorney’s Office is set to apply for a state grant directed toward keeping youth offenders out of detention.
Tom Wollman on Tuesday, May 9, received a unanimous go-ahead from the Lincoln County Commission for his office to apply for a $70,000 per year grant in order to hire a juvenile diversion coordinator.
The grant, which the county could receive annually for up to three-straight years, comes as a result of a 2016 bill from the South Dakota Legislature, and has already been utilized in some of South Dakota’s larger counties, including Brown, Brookings, Codington, Davison, Hughes and Yankton.
Wollman said that under current diversion practices, youth offenders are referred from his office to the county’s court services office, where they receive options other than detention as a sentence for certain crimes, which could include community service or various forms of counseling. He said that current staffing levels and workload led him to feel that the diversion program could “maybe have a little more teeth.”
“We currently have an average daily population of about two kids in detention with a detention stay of about 36 days, and of course the goal there is to reduce those numbers to keep kids out of detention,” he explained. “I think we’ve been doing a good job with that, but this could be a position that would hopefully hone in and make those diversions a little more meaningful for some of these juveniles.”
On behalf of Commissioner James Jibben, who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Joel Arends asked what exactly the juvenile diversion program might look like.
Annie Brokenleg, Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative coordinator for the South Dakota Unified Judicial System, said having the full-time diversion coordinator would offer youth offenders access to a variety of alternative programs instead of facing time in a detention facility.
“The diversion coordinator position can refer to any type of services that probation utilizes — working with community mental health centers, functional family therapy, moral reconation therapy, aggression replacement training, cannabis use — all of those programs that the state funds the diversion coordinator will have access to,” she explained. “It can be a number of things. We don't want it to be a one-size-fits-all approach, it’s really looking at youth and family and finding out what they need.”
According to Brokenleg, the annual grant would fund one full-time coordinator, with Wollman adding the possibility of an office being located within the Tea, Lennox or Harrisburg school districts appears likely.
Under a state program, funds are returned to the county for every youth offender that completes the diversion program. In 2022, Lincoln County received more than $5,000 in state funding for the more than 50 successfully diverted youths, but Brokenleg said other counties using the program are seeing anywhere from $15,000 to $18,000 in returned funding each year.
“I think that this is a worthwhile exercise,” said Commissioner Jim Schmidt. “With the number of students we have, I'm sure that position will be busy.”
Following the 4-0 vote, with Jibben absent, Wollman said the deadline to apply is June 3, with Brokenleg adding that funds could be available as soon as July 1.
“If we secure the grant we’d like to be back in front of the commission to discuss what we’ve received back from the state by way of secured funding through the diversions program,” Wollman said, “and then just sort of an evaluation to decide whether to extend past the three-year period.”