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South Dakota is becoming more able to track Native American parolees

July 14, 2014

In his latest weekly column, Governor Daugaard it promoting the Tribal Parole Pilot Program. Here is an excerpt from his column:

When we met with stakeholders before drafting the legislation, tribal members brought a parole issue forward. Today, 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 legislation mentioned is SB70, passed in 2013 with almost no resistance. As with most large pieces of legislation it has a ‘feel good’ name: The Public Safety Improvement Act. The states website for the Act can be found here. One part of the Act allows Native American parolees to be better tracked once they are out of prison by working with the tribes. Apparently many Native American parolees like to go home to the reservation when they get out of incarceration… who would have figured? (ok, I’ll try to keep sarcasm out of this).

Proponents of Daugaards overhaul of the justice system in South Dakota probably see this as a good announcement of progress from the Governor. I don’t. It continues the state down the same path of continuing to prosecute and lock up people for crimes with no victims. All the Governors program did was change how some of those being convicted are treated. That is not progress; rather it is continuation of the status quo.

Recently I reported that South Dakota has the 16th highest incarceration rate in the United States, and the world. Apparently the Governor is proud of that because SD Attorney General Marty Jackley wants to send more people to jail for victim-less crimes. Now we have Governor Daugaard proud the state can track more Native Americans once they leave incarceration. Its mind-boggling to think such a move would improve anything. But I guess big government bureaucrats love tracking people once they have been in the system.

There is also the Elephant in the Room about this policy being racist (a term I don’t use lightly, since it is often overused). Looking at the data from theDCI 2013 Crime in South Dakota publication there are some definite signs of more Native Americans being charged with drug-related crimes that have no actual victims. Here are some numbers:

  • Total Number of all offenders for drug related crimes: 8336
  • Total Number of American Indian offenders for drug related crimes: 1614
  • Total Percentage of American Indian offenders for drug related crimes:  19.36%
  • Percentage of American Indians in South Dakota population (via census): 8.9%

Almost 20% of all drug related violations are connected with Native American offenders. Yet less than 9% of the state’s population is Native American. I’ve been searching for statistics on drug abuse by race data. Most of the sources I find show that Native Americans have about the same or slightly higher drug substance abuse as other races in the US. The figure below shows data from the National Survey on Drug Use & Health Report:

Chart Source: www.samhas.gov

Chart Source: http://www.samhas.gov

In this chart it can be seen that American Indians do have slightly higher drug use rates than the national average. Yet that slight increase is not reflected in South Dakota drug violations. South Dakota definitely has more Native American drug violations than the average abuse rates would lead one to expect. Does that mean the American Indians in South Dakota are more prone to drug use? I cannot image anyone trying to make that argument.

Without more data it is hard to say exactly why Native Americans in South Dakota are the recipients of more drug violations. But one reason comes to mind immediately. First, the reservations are poor. No, I’m not saying that poor people do drugs more often. What I’m saying is that poor people have a more difficult time fighting against the justice system. If a cop has to choose between arresting a rich white kid or a poor Indian kid, which is that cop more likely to choose? Same scenario with a prosecutor. Will a prosecutor choose to press charges against a poor Indian kid that can’t afford a real defense, or a rich white kid that will be able to fight the system. I think the answer to this becomes pretty apparent.

OK, back to the Tribal Parole Pilot (remember, that was the topic of this post). Since Native Americans are have a higher proportional number of people incarcerated for victim-less crimes, there will also be a higher proportional number of American Indians on parole. This program from the Governor allows the state to continue monitoring and intruding on the lives of these same American Indians. When looked at that way it is easy to see who the actual victims are: the people (especially American Indians) who are being convicted for crimes where there is no actual victim. Then to rub salt in the wound of those convicted, the State continues to intrude in their lives.

As I’ve said before I’m no advocate of mind altering drugs. No matter how someone feels about the subject it is important to see if the current system is working as intended. If the intention is to put a lot of poor people (or people of a different race) in jail… well, the system works just fine. If the intention is to reduce drug use in American. Well… the War on Drugs has never worked. Unfortunately SD’s Governor Dauggard will continue to push the failed (and possibly racist) War on Drugs.

PS. I do give bonus points to Daugaard for using the word ‘absconders’. Sounds like something I would hear on an old BBC cop show.

  1. September 24, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    You can certainly see your skills within the work you write.
    The world hopes for more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to mention how they believe.
    All the time follow your heart.

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