SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Although South Dakota ranked 16th in terms of the rate of incarceration based on 2020 numbers, the prison inmate population grew from 2021 to 2022, the state said in a December report.
The state had a 31.6% increase in population from 2,377 in FY21 to 3,129 in FY22, according to the 2022 Statistical Report from the South Dakota Department of Corrections. The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.
The state listed the per 100,000 incarceration rate as 362 for 2020. That rate is for all aged residents. The rate for those 18 and older was 47 per 100,000 residents, according to the U.S Department of Justice. (DOJ).
In the second quarter of 2021, the rate was 607 per 100,000 residents aged 15 to 64, according to a study by the Vera Institute. The Vera Institute was founded in 1960 to “research, test and scale innovative alternatives to mass incarceration,” according to its website.
COVID-19 did decrease the national prison population for a time across the nation, as fewer trials and other court actions declined during the pandemic, according to the DOJ. “The prison population declined by 157,500 persons during the first six months of the COVID-19 study period through the end of August 2020,” the DOJ said in an August 2022 report.
Generally the prison inmate population has grown in the state. It has decreased a little since a high in 2017 but there is growth on the horizon. In 20 years, the population is expected to grow from 26% (from 3,407 to 4,296), according to the 2022 DOC report.
An expected growing general population along with probable increases in crime, facilities that are outdated, and expected increases in the prison population caused the DOC and supporters to advocate for a $400 million funding package for improvements. The Legislature approved the funding for a new women’s prison and new men’s prison.
The ALCU, the Vera Institute, and the Prison Policy Initiative are among the organizations that say the state’s policies on crimes and punishment contribute to prison population numbers.
In short, the state has too many offenders in prison for non-violent drug crimes.
The state DOC said that 79% of prison admissions were for non-violent offenses.
Although organizations have also cited shortfalls in the state’s parole system, repeat offenders was a topic in this year’s legislative session.
The South Dakota Legislature passed a law that would limit parole for inmates sentenced on violent crimes and/felonies. Supporters cited problems with repeat felony offenders, so who were paroled from prison. Violent crimes made up 20.3% of all inmate admissions in 2022.
The number of violent incidents involving staff within the prisons has been at 28 or above since 2018. There were 28 staff assaults in 2018, 29 in 2019, 39 in 2020, 28 in 2021 and 41 in 2022.
Offender fights have increased since 2018. There were 155 in 2018, 179 in 2019, 201 in 2020, 180 in 2021 and 192 in 2022.
Officials in the Sioux Falls area have said in the past several months that parolees, repeat offenders, guns and drugs are driving violent crime in the area.
The Minnehaha County Jail has seen an increase in violence, jail warden Mike Mattson said in a March report to the county board.
Mattson said there 303 incidents where responding staff had to use force to control the incident in 2022. That was a 30% increase from the 230 incidents in 2021.
There were 16 incidents where an inmate assaulted a staff member compared to 11 in 2021.
Funding was approved this year for new prisons but funding was approved last year to help address the turnover in prison staff.
In August 2022, Gov. Kristi Noem raised the starting pay for DOC security officers was increased to pay up to $23.50 an hour. Existing officers would get raises to $28 an hour.
The DOC has 519 full time equivalent (FTEs) as security officers which is 65% of the staff. The DOC has 98 security officer vacancies in July of 2021. It had 156 in December of 2022, according to a DOC presentation to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations in January.
Although DOC officials said the August pay increases helped decrease turnover, vacancies did increase at the state prison in Sioux Falls.
Almost 78,000 people are sent to a local jail each year in the state, according to the Vera Institute’s study on incarceration.
The state put people in jail at a higher rate than the U.S. In the second quarter of 2021, South Dakota’s rate for jails was 459 per 100,000 residents while the nation’s was 297, according to Vera. The population was broken into per 100,000 residents age 15 to 64.
According to the DOJ the jail incarceration rates increased by 15% from 2020 to 2021. Unconvicted jail inmates accounted for 81% of the increase in jail population from midyear 2020 to midyear 2021. Unconvicted means the inmate is likely housed in jail waiting for a court appearance or trial. Bail may not be an option or bail may be too expensive to post for release.
In South Dakota, Vera has a category for inmates in jail for pre-trial action. The rate of such inmates in Minnehaha County, the most populous state county, was 126 individuals per 100,000.
The Prison Policy Initiative also cited the state’s policies which have increased the number of pre-trial jail inmates.