The tribal parole program in South Dakota is aimed at solving a problem common to many jurisdictions: providing effective supervision to Native Americans who leave prison and return to live on tribal lands. This brief describes the issues that tribal communities face and how they are working together with the state government to provide effective services for Native American people on parole. It is the first brief in a series of three that focuses on the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI)—an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts. JRI is a data-driven approach to improve public safety, examine corrections and related criminal justice spending, manage and allocate criminal justice populations in a more cost-effective manner, and reinvest savings in strategies that can hold system-involved people accountable, decrease crime, and strengthen neighborhoods. At least 30 states have engaged in this process.
An effective way to bridge differences between state and tribal governments is to create collaborative policies that holistically consider the needs of the person on parole.
The reasons for high failure rates among Native American parolees and their parole agents include challenging residential conditions, limited access to services in tribal areas, and agents’ inability to hold parolees accountable.
The South Dakota Department of Corrections partnered with the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate (SWO) of the Lake Traverse Reservation, who were granted the authority—and responsibility—to supervise parolees who returned to SWO tribal lands.
The Wellness Team, a unique and effective component of the program, has helped tribal parole agents deliver effective supervision, and promoted the involvement of parolees’ family members and other loved ones from the community.
Before the pilot, the number of people on parole who failed to comply with the terms of their supervision had grown as a share of the prison population in South Dakota from 18% in 2000 to 25% in 2012.
The annual number of people in South Dakota who violated their parole and were admitted into prison almost tripled from 2000 to 2012.
People who identify as Native American in South Dakota constituted 44% of those who were returned to prison for a parole violation, despite making up only 24 percent of the entire parole population.
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