Update On The Tribal Pilot Parole Program
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
This week I had the honor of speaking about South Dakota’s criminal justice system at a policy briefing on Capitol Hill. I talked with policymakers about the process we undertook to study our growing prison population and the criminal justice reforms we adopted in 2013. I encouraged those who attended to look to South Dakota as they consider making similar reforms at the federal level.
It was an easy pitch because the reforms we’ve adopted in South Dakota are already bringing positive results. Our prison population is lower than what was projected; we haven’t had to construct a new state prison; and the tribal pilot parole program we put in place last year has been effective.
Nearly 30 percent of the inmates in the state prison system are Native American. More than half of parolees who abscond from the state parole supervision are Native Americans. In many of these cases, the absconders are returning to one of the reservations, where they often have homes and families. Unfortunately, because the state lacks jurisdiction on the reservations, state parole agents can no longer supervise parolees who return to a reservation.
The tribal pilot parole program was enacted one year ago as an agreement between the state of South Dakota and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. Under the program, the tribe supervises enrolled tribal members who want to return to the Lake Traverse Reservation while on parole.
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. These evidence-based practices have been shown to reduce the risk that a parolee will return to the penitentiary.
As a part of the pilot program, a tribal wellness team meets regularly to provide support for the parolees in the program. The team includes individuals who work in a number of different areas including mental health, tribal law enforcement, drug and alcohol treatment, housing, and veteran’s affairs. If a participant violates parole, the wellness team reviews the individual’s case and determines the most appropriate sanctions. They take the risks and needs of each violator into consideration, and apply the penalties which are most likely to change behavior.
So far the results of the pilot program have been very promising. In the first year, 95 percent of the offenders in the tribal parole pilot did not abscond or have a parole violation report submitted. Nearly 70 percent went without a sanction due to a rule violation. No offenders were returned to prison because of a new conviction and only one offender was returned to prison due to a technical violation.
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. If the tribal pilot parole program continues to be successful, we’ll have the opportunity to expand it to other reservations.
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. Through the tribal pilot parole program and other programs under the law, we are not only improving public safety and reducing spending, but holding offenders more accountable and improving lives.