Minnehaha and Pennington County, in South Dakota, have dropped juvenile detention rates by one-third and one-half, respectively, in just two years.

Now the rest of the state is hoping to follow their lead.

Alternatives to detention are ways to safely supervise delinquent youth without putting them in a detention facility, which increases the risk of subsequent incarceration and can also teach youths the wrong lessons. Instead, alternatives such as electronic monitoring ensure that public safety is held paramount while reducing the negative outcomes—and substantial costs—of detention.

The key to alternatives to detention begins with a validated risk assessment. This provides detention facility staff with the information necessary to determine which youth truly represent a risk to society, and thus must be detained, and which can be safely monitored in their homes.

Both Minnehaha and Pennington Counties adopted such alternatives through the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, and neither county saw any resulting increase in crime, even as fewer juveniles were placed in secure confinement.

Therefore, other South Dakota counties are seeking to implement similar successful alternatives in their own facilities.

A similar effect was highlighted in Texas by Texas Public Policy Foundation research. Harris and Dallas Counties realized substantial budget cuts, better outcomes for juveniles, and safer streets while implementing alternatives to detention.