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Politics & Government

Interim committee studying juvenile justice reform

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Dave Thompson
/
Prairie Public

An interim Legislative committee has begun its study of the juvenile justice system.

Members of the Justice Reinvestment Committee are hoping that some of the juveniles who now go through the court system will be able to be diverted into community-based treatment programs.

The Department of Corrections Director of the Division of Juvenile Services, Lisa Bjergaard, said some work toward that reform is already underway, thanks to the study done two years ago, and the recommendations that came from the Council of State Governments.

"We've got a roadmap," Bjergaard said in an interview. "It's a matter of inspiring our partners to come along with us."

Bjergaard said this will require community awareness, as well as community based programming.

"I think the jury is still out yet on what that's going to look like," Bjergaard said. "A lot of the reforms we need may cost us less than we think."

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Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public
State court administrator Sally Holewa testifies before the interim Justice Reinvestment Committee (9/13/17).

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Meanwhile, North Dakota’s State Court Administrator said the legislature should look at raising the state’s “age of criminal responsibility.”

Sally Holewa told the Legislature’s interim Justice Reinvestment Committee the age at which a juvenile can be taken to court in North Dakota is seven.

"Picture what a little 7-year old looks like," Holewa said. "In 2015, the last year where we have the data, we had 20 of those 7-year olds coming through the juvenile court as little mini-criminals."

Holewa told the committee she would like to see that raised – to 10 or 12 years of age.

"The question is, is it more appropriate if that kid is acting up to send them to children and family servces to address underlying issues with mental health or the home life, or is it more important to run them through the criminal system?" Holewa said.

The committee will make recommendations to the 2019 Legislature.

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