RAPID CITY, S.D. – The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and Seventh Circuit Court are the recipient of a $1.2 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to continue building on efforts to advance local criminal justice system reform and safely reduce Pennington County’s jail population. This brings the Foundation’s total investment in Pennington County to $3.55 million to date. The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $217 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration and address racial and ethnic disparities in local criminal justice systems by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.
The Safety and Justice Challenge supports local leaders in Pennington County and across the country determined to address one of the greatest drivers of over-incarceration in America – the misuse and overuse of jails. Pennington County was first selected to join the Safety and Justice Challenge Network in 2015 and has since used the resources and funding provided by the Challenge to implement bold reforms, including expanding alternatives to incarceration to include cultural-based programming; the Jail Review Team; Low-Level Offender Court; Adult Diversion; Warrant Resolution efforts both within Pennington County and within neighboring tribal communities; Community Work Program; expanding Safe Solutions, a safe place for individuals to sleep who are intoxicated; building relationships with neighboring tribal communities by attending community events; and taking a deep dive into the data at each justice system decision point to reveal potential disparities and/or identify opportunities for improvement. As a result, the number of individuals referred to jail for only a misdemeanor decreased by 74 percent between September 2017 and September 2019. Individuals remained in jail fewer days after these and other implementations.
Today, Pennington County was one of a five of jurisdictions selected for additional funding based on the promise and progress of the work to date. This new round of funding will provide the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, Seventh Circuit Court and other partners with continued support and expert technical assistance to strengthen and expand strategies with the goal of further reducing the county’s average daily jail population by 22 percent in two years and addressing racial and ethnic disparities.
“We are extremely appreciative of the support we have received from the MacArthur Foundation,” said Rapid City’s Chief of Police Karl Jegeris. “It has had a significant impact in reducing the number of low-level justice-involved individuals introduced into our local justice system.”
In partnership with local law enforcement, corrections officials, prosecutors, judges, community members, and other stakeholders, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and the Seventh Circuit have developed a comprehensive plan for additional reform strategies over the next two years. All strategies will focus on safely reducing the jail population, racial and ethnic disparities, and system inefficiencies, as well as expanding non-jail options for lower-risk justice-involved individuals within Pennington County. Key strategies and initiatives to create a safer, more effective system include:
- Pre-arrest and pre-trial diversion strategies;
- Improvements to case processing efficiency;
- Alternatives to incarceration, including culturally-based alternatives;
- Enhanced services for people with mental illness and/or substance abuse issues involved with the justice system;
- Standardized data collection and reporting for system performance transparency and accountability; and
- Continued tribal outreach and engagement on reservations and within the Pennington County community to implement several initiatives with the goal of reducing the overrepresentation of Native Americans in the Pennington County jail system and improving relationships.
“We are deeply appreciative of the faith that the MacArthur Foundation has shown by extending their investment in Pennington County,” said Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo. “As we search for newer, better ways to approach criminal justice, we have leaned hard on the expertise we have received from the MacArthur Foundation and their partners. Our community and thousands of individuals are better off for the approaches and programming which we have been able to implement because of this relationship.”
Five years after its public launch, the Challenge Network has grown into a collaborative of 51 jurisdictions in 32 states modeling and inspiring reforms to create fairer, more effective local justice systems across the country.
“Local jurisdictions are proving it is possible for cities and counties to rethink local justice systems from the ground up, despite challenges and an ever-changing political environment,” said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur’s Director of Criminal Justice. “MacArthur remains committed to supporting jurisdictions as they set ambitious reform goals and pursue smart solutions that safely reduce jail populations, address disparities, and eliminate ineffective, inefficient and unfair practices.”
Several of the nation’s leading criminal justice organizations will continue to provide technical assistance and counsel to Pennington County and the other jurisdictions involved in the Challenge. These include the Justice Management Institute, Center for Court Innovation, Everyday Democracy, Nexus Community Partners, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, JFA Institute, Justice System Partners, the Pretrial Justice Institute, Policy Research, Inc., the Vera Institute of Justice, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, Urban Institute, and Bennett Midland.
More information about the work underway in Pennington County can be found at http://www.safetyandjusticechallenge.org/challenge-site/pennington-county/ as well as on www.SafetyandJusticeChallenge.org.