Law Enforcement Participation in County-wide Justice Reform Leads to Reductions in Disproportionate Minority Confinement

Law Enforcement Participation in County-wide Justice Reform Leads to Reductions in Disproportionate Minority Confinement

Written By: iacpblog

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Pennington County, South Dakota is 1 of 40 jurisdictions to receive funding through the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) to plan and implement strategies to safely reduce jail populations. The Safety and Justice Challenge is a five-year, $100 million investment by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to help jurisdictions across the United States create more effective local justice systems. Pennington County is among eight sites to receive additional SJC funding this month to fully implement its justice system reform strategies.

Guest Blogger: Vaughn Vargas, Community Advisory Coordinator, Rapid City, South Dakota, Police Department

According to the 2010 Census, Native Americans make up 10 percent of the population of Rapid City, South Dakota, but, due to a large transient population, officials estimate the number to be closer to 23.5 percent. Regardless, arrest data from October 2013 to January 2015 show that Native Americans made up 59.1 percent of those arrested over that period, and the county jail has an inmate population that is approximately 51 percent Native American.

Through the Safety and Justice Challenge, Pennington County developed a strategy that includes initiatives that address the overrepresentation of Native Americans, including expedited case processing, community supervision, pretrial diversion, and tribal outreach. We’ve experienced some early success: over the last year, Pennington County reduced the jail population by 10.16 percent, enhanced an existing strong collaboration of justice system stakeholders, engaged the community in our reform efforts, and designed solid strategies for meeting the goal of a 20-24 percent reduction in the jail population over the next two years. We are excited to announce that we received additional funding from the MacArthur Foundation, which will allow us to implement the initiatives listed above to their full extent and to achieve our jail reduction goal. We plan to build on our early successes to ensure sustainable change within Pennington County.

In Pennington County, our law enforcement leaders have been strong drivers of our reform policies.  For example, Pennington County law enforcement adopted a “Cite and Release” policy for petty offenses, such as shoplifting, trespassing, public consumption, etc.  However, we found that in the case of Native Americans, we were making many custodial arrests because individuals did not have “acceptable” identification, so they had to be taken to jail to verify their identity by fingerprints. We addressed this problem by recognizing the tribal government identification cards as valid identification.

Other challenges causing overrepresentation and longer stays by Native Americans in the jail include societal factors such as poverty, homelessness, addiction, mental illness, and unemployment. To address these challenges, Pennington County’s tribal outreach includes five strategies:
  • Issuance of Tribal and State Identification on Reservations— Although law enforcement is trained to utilize all forms of identification (state and tribal ID) as noted above, there are still individuals who are arrested and brought into the jail because they have no form of identification. In order to reduce the number of custodial arrests occurring due to lack of any identification, we plan to implement a program where individuals can gain a tribal and/or state identification. We plan to implement a pilot program within one tribal community initially with a plan to expand to other communities.
  • Warrant Resolution—The court will establish programs to resolve cases and warrants on tribal land allowing misdemeanor warrants to be cleared without a custodial arrest;
  • Community Service on the Reservation—Defendants can carry out their community service on the reservation in lieu of jail time for appropriate crimes;
  • Jail Service on the Reservation—Defendants can complete jail sentence in a tribal jail, which will build better relations with the Tribes and allow for easier visitations for friends and family members on the reservation; and
  • Unilateral Extradition— Tribal and federal law currently do not mandate extradition of defendants, as between Pennington County and the three adjacent Tribes. Only by mutual agreement is any type of extradition possible. The Sheriff’s Office and the Police Department intend to pursue the practice of extradition from Pennington County to the Tribes as a first step in developing extradition agreements. We believe unilateral extradition from Pennington County to the requesting reservation is a first step to increasing cooperation and trust between tribal and Pennington County law enforcement.
Additionally, a large portion of our law enforcement and community health resources were being allocated for “familiar faces,” a group who turned out to be a small portion of our community and whose underlying problem was chronic alcoholism. To address these individuals, Pennington County introduced the “Safe Solutions” facility, which significantly expands our detox capacity and creates alternatives for nuisance-type crimes. With the new funding from the MacArthur Foundation, we will expand the Safe Solutions facility to include additional beds for males, and add beds for females.

What does this mean to our local law enforcement agencies?  Funding and technical assistance provided through the Safety and Justice Challenge will continue to allow Rapid City and Pennington County to tailor solutions specific to our community, identify incarceration drivers, and ensure we hold public safety paramount. Most importantly, it has allowed law enforcement to provide insight to key justice system stakeholders, have a significant voice in local criminal justice system reform, and will provide continued opportunities for sustained stakeholder collaboration for years to come.
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