Tribal Parole Pilot Program helps to reduce prison population

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SIOUX FALLS - CORRECTION: A recent report shows the numbers are closer to 30 percent for Native Americans, but compared to Caucasians are nearly half of the state's white prison population.

Law enforcement diversity in our area is not perfect, but local leaders are at least having a conversation to make it better.

KSFY News found a similar problem in South Dakota's prison system.

KSFY News spoke with the head of the state's Department of Corrections about what South Dakota is doing to fix it.

Some people stand a greater chance of being locked up, behind bars in South Dakota. Percentage-wise, Native Americans are one of the largest groups to be thrown behind bars.

Currently, the state is testing out one part of South Dakota's prison reform act to turn those numbers around.

Chase Iron Eyes said "we've got to work together. That's what we've got to do, to reduce our prison population, yet make up 33 percent of the prison for native men and it's even higher for native women."

A recent report shows the numbers are closer to 30 percent for Native Americans. And Native American inmates are nearly half of the state's white prison population.

For many inmates, the problem is meth, but prison might not be the best solution.

Secretary Denny Kaemingk said "we do have a very good methamphetamine treatment program for females in Pierre, but that should not be the only issue why you send someone to a correctional facility. You send them to a correctional facility, it should be because we're scared of them."

Secretary Kaemingk is not afraid to keep more convicts out of prison.

"Parolees want to go home, and with a native american population, their family means a tremendous amount to them, and if that is a pro-social situation, then that's where they should go," Secretary Kaemingk said.

The Tribal Pilot Program makes it easier for Native American parolees to return home and continue their parole on the reservation.

"That's fairly easy to take that person out of the community, re-entry is much, much more difficult, and not nearly as successful as we would like," Secretary Kaemingk said.

"We think being able to supervise, and help them with their needs, in that situation will help the recidivism, and help the absconder situation. It will help keep them from returning back to prison," Secretary Kaemingk added.

Until then, those inmates have many opportunities to celebrate their culture in prison.

South Dakota State Penitentiary Deputy Warden Jennifer Wagner said "it's very important that the inmates feel that they're connected, that they're not left behind, and so that they can still be in contact with their community."

Those programs can help prevent inmates from returning to prison once released.

"When people are successful, they're proud of themselves, so these opportunities for the inmates to practice their spirituality, whatever it may be, this is where they can find pride in themselves, and start going down the road of success," Deputy Warden Wagner said.

With the Tribal Pilot Program, the department of corrections pays for a parole supervisor on the reservation.

It allows Native American parolees can return home, and continue their parole.

"We got an agent hired in August, and the agent is up and running, and I believe he is right now working 29 cases, from Sisseton-Wahpeton," Secretary Kaemingk said.

Sisseton-Wahpeton is the first reservation to take part in the pilot program. Standing Rock will be next.

Tribal leaders have the authority to return violators to the state.