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Native Sun News: Juvenile center offers services to Native youth

The following story was written and reported by Richie Richards, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

An interior shot of the Juvenile Services Center. Photo by Richie Richards

Native Sun News tours the Juvenile Services Center
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY –– The Juvenile Services Center (JSC), formerly Juvenile Detention Center, is more than just a facility for locking up our youth in Rapid City.

On April 15, Native Sun News sat down with Commander Eddie Gutierrez of the JSC to discuss the facility and programs for youth, including Native youth who are at the critical age when institutionalization becomes a life choice.

According to Commander Gutierrez, the facility has a very low turnover rate for staffing. He credits this to the dedication and passion of those employed there. This includes three teachers.

He said, “Everyone really enjoys their jobs here. They have a passion to work with juveniles and want the best for these kids.”

During the week, there are 50 plus hours of programming available for all juveniles. In particular, programs in the past, and currently available, for Natives have included; 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, Culture Awareness, Lakota Cultural Mapping Class, Native healing Program, Nutrition, In-House Work Program, Wise Guys, and Graduation Services.

Commander Gutierrez said they have had great programs with the many organizations in Rapid City who have come in to do events and programming, but those don’t always last due to funding issues, volunteers’ time, and other unfortunate reasons.

Each year, the JSC does a feathering ceremony for students in the program who have finished class credits and will be graduating with a high school diploma.

The JSC also has an excellent rate for G.E.D. as they are number one in the state for completing requirements for this high school equivalent diploma.

This year’s feathering ceremony will be on April 24 at 1 p.m. and will be conducted by Scott Means. Means will honor two Native students with an eagle feather for their hard work, dedication and commitment to finish school; despite the challenges in their lives.

NSN spoke to one outstanding student who will be graduating in April. When asked if he will be going to college, he said with a smile, “Yes. I’m gonna be starting in the fall.”

This young man is finishing a sentence and will still be in JSC when he begins taking classes in the fall. The John Witherspoon College of Rapid City has a program for juveniles wanting to begin taking college courses before they are released.

Since Jan. 2011 there has been a reception area in which juveniles with minor offenses are held for up to 12 hours. This 12 hour holding period for parents to pick up their children, is different than the past.

Up until this change in 2011, South Dakota had one of the highest rates of incarceration of juveniles in the country; although they were among the lowest for violent crime rate.

This Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative began as a pilot program in Minnehaha County and eventually came to Pennington County.

Several factors contribute to less incarceration for shorter periods of time. Several county, church, and community organizations combined their services and resources to ensure juveniles are not just locked up for prolonged durations.

These groups working together include Lutheran Social Services, Pennington County Court Services, State’s Attorney’s Office, Arise Youth Center, Juvenile Services Center, Department of Social Services and many others contribute to the expeditious processing of offenders.

Nearly 90 percent of all those brought in are released within 12 hours of arriving. They are being screened more efficiently and an Expeditor Meeting is held on behalf of the juvenile to review the case and the best solution is individualized to fit their needs.

There are 41 beds currently available in the JSC; which is down from 100 in Jan. 2011. Although there has been savings for the county on corrections needs, the budget for alternative programs has risen.

The JSC has changed over the years and has become more than the highly stigmatized place of detaining youth. There are 32.5 correctional staff currently and 44 support staff that work at the facility.

Commander Gutierrez says although there are currently no paid positions available at JSC, he is always looking to work with interns as they are accredited for college credit. These can be for any duration of time from one day to a full academic school year.

Despite having three juveniles serving time for murder, one for rape, and another for arson, the facility continues to prepare students for life outside of confinement.

There are teachers who work with Special Ed, Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s), and Title 1 teachers. Volunteer tutors come in to work with students in specialized areas.

Currently, the Juvenile Services Center is in need of a drum group to come teach and perform. They would like to see a regular presence of ceremonial practices for the youth. This facility does allow the burning of sage.

The days of locking up the youth of Rapid City for minor offenses are not as rampant.

Pennington County has put more emphasis rehabilitation, county monitoring, family support services, and less about the institutionalization of young developing minds.

(Contact Richie Richards at

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Native Sun News: County addresses spiritual needs of inmates (4/20)

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