Legislators who attempted to stop the auction of a Custer juvenile detention campus as part of a broader critique of juvenile-justice reforms were indirectly targeted Tuesday by Gov. Dennis Daugaard in his State of the State speech at the Capitol in Pierre.
“I know juvenile offenders can be difficult,” Daugaard said, “but we need to remain focused on what’s best for them. Locking up children because they’re difficult to deal with is not acceptable.”
Last week, the state accepted an auction bid of $2.34 million for the former STAR Academy campus near Custer. The sale of the campus to private owners who hope to convert it to a light-industrial business park is part of state government’s ongoing effort to keep more troubled children in their communities rather than committed to faraway facilities.
Those efforts were accelerated in 2015 with the Legislature’s passage and Daugaard’s signing of juvenile-justice reform legislation. Since then, some local school officials and law enforcement officials have complained that the burden and expense of dealing with troubled juveniles has been passed down to them.
A group of legislators, including several from the Black Hills, responded to the complaints with an unsuccessful attempt to stop the auction of the STAR campus. Some of those legislators hinted last week after attending the auction that they may still try to halt the sale.
Meanwhile, Gov. Daugaard's chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, said Tuesday in response to Journal questions that the governor has already given his required approval to the sale, but the closing of the sale could still take months while the terms of a contract-for-deed are finalized and several initial payments are collected from the buyers.
One legislator who was critical of the auction, Rep. Tim Goodwin, R-Rapid City, said by phone after Daugaard’s speech Tuesday that activism against the STAR auction seems to have waned in recent days. Goodwin said he now doubts anything can be done to stop the closing of the sale.
Daugaard, in his speech, invited fixes to juvenile-justice problems but seemed determined to repel any potential revolt against the 2015 reforms.
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“I know we all hear concerns from law enforcement and school leaders concerning the juvenile reforms,” Daugaard said. “That’s why we made some of the changes we did last year. But when someone tells you the reforms aren’t working, we need to understand exactly what is the problem, and what policy change might address it. A broad brush is insufficient.”
On other Black Hills-specific topics, Daugaard said:
• Rapid City will host the 2018 annual meeting of the Western Governors Association, of which Daugaard is the chairman (the meeting will be June 25-27).
• Rapid City became a pilot site this month, along with Sioux Falls, Yankton and Brookings, for a high school program called Career Launch that will encourage the expanded availability of work-based educational experiences such as apprenticeships, internships and job-shadowing.
• The state is working on a sale of salvaged timber from the recent Legion Lake Fire that began in Custer State Park, where Daugaard said the work of firefighters and others to save homes and prevent injury and death was an example of "South Dakota at its best."
• The groundbreaking at the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility of the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, and the expansions of VRC Metal Systems and B9Creations in Rapid City, were among examples of South Dakota's economic development successes in 2017.
• Pennington County could be one of two sites, along with Minnehaha County, of a proposed pilot program that would use a potential waiver from the Trump administration to impose a work requirement on non-elderly, able-bodied adults who are enrolled in the federal-state Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.