Sioux Benefit From South Dakota Reforms

SISSETON, S.D. (CN) – A pilot program that lets Native American parolees return to their reservation under tribal supervision has reduced the number of Indians in South Dakota prisons, the governor says.
     Gov. Dennis Daugaard said the program also provides mental health counseling, addiction treatment, and other services.
     The program began on the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe on the Lake Traverse Reservation. The 108,000-acre reservation in northeastern South Dakota is home to more than 12,000 tribal members.
     The Tribal Pilot Parole Program, created under South Dakota’s 2013 Public Safety Improvement Act, is a response to the overrepresentation of Native Americans in state prisons.
     Nearly 30 percent of South Dakota prisoners are Native American, Gov. Daugaard said, and more than half of the people who abscond from parole are Native American, though only 9 percent of the state population are Native American.
     Department of Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk said in 2013 that 144 of 216 parole absconders were Native Americans, largely because they return to reservation land, where the state lacks jurisdiction.
     “Traditionally, Native American males would be paroled to a community like Sioux Falls,” the governor’s general counsel Jim Seward told Courthouse News.
     “They most likely had not lived there or worked there before, yet under the old system, they would be told, ‘You need to work and live in Sioux Falls.’ And that would be complicated for anyone who had never lived and worked there, let alone someone from a different culture.”
     Returning to the reservation after being ordered to live elsewhere was a parole violation.
     “A full one-quarter of all people in prison were parole violators,” Seward said, “and a lot of them were Native Americans.”
     Daugaard said the pilot program would not endanger South Dakotans.
     “The state provides the training and funding for a tribal parole agent to supervise parolees on the reservation under the same parole system that state agents use. This system applies swift, certain and proportionate sanctions for misbehavior, along with incentives for compliance,” Daugaard wrote last week on the state website.
     Numbers show the program is working.
     Ninety-five percent of parolees in the program did not abscond or violate parole in the first year. No parolees were sent back to prison because of new convictions, and only one was returned because of a technical violation.
     That’s important in a state burdened by the cost of running its own prisons. If adult incarcerations continue at the current rate, South Dakota will have to spend $224 million in the next 10 years to build new adult prisons, according to the state’s 2012 report on its criminal justice reforms .
     Daugaard said the 2013 Public Safety Improvement Act, which includes the Tribal Pilot Parole Program, helped reduce the expansion rate of incarceration, making it possible for the state to hold off on building new prisons.
     “In its first year, the parole program with Sisseton Wahpeton has been a success. The pilot has led to smoother transitions for Native American parolees and restoration for tribal families,” Daugaard said. “Of all things undertaken in my four and a half years as governor, the Public Safety Improvement Act is one of the efforts of which I am most proud.”
     Daugaard said he’d like to expand the program to other reservations in the future, but funding is limited.
     “We are trying to figure out how we can make this work with other tribes,” the governor’s general counsel Seward said. “We’ll have to go back to the Legislature to get further funding. But it is certainly the intent of the governor and the correctional department to get this program on every reservation in the state if they’ll allow it.
     “I have also spoken with the director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance. They are reviewing the program and are looking for opportunities for us to share the story with other states.”
     Representatives from the Sisseton Wahpeton tribe did not respond to requests for comment before press time.
     South Dakota has nine reservations for its 13 Indian tribes, more than any other state. Its roughly 72,000 Native Americans account for 8.9 percent of the state’s population, compared with 1.2 percent Native Americans in the nation as a whole.
     An excellent source of information about Native American news is the Indian Country Today Media Network. Founded by Tim Giago in 1981 as Indian Country Today, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the Oneida Nation of New York bought the newspaper in 1998 and moved it to New York. In 2013 the newspaper became online only.

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