Note: This story has been updated with comments from the South Dakota Department of Corrections and retired judge David Gilbertson.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Public officials said law enforcement are seeing an increasing number of familiar suspects in criminal activity in Sioux Falls and the surrounding area.
“We’re seeing a lot of repeat offenders, we’re seeing a lot of people who are no strangers to our system,” Sioux Falls Police Chief Jon Thum said, particularly when it comes to assaults.
An increasing number of crimes are being committed by “…people who have been known to us in law enforcement,” said Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken.
These are people who “potentially on parole. Potentially people that have previous arrests by our law enforcement,” TenHaken said.
The city officials along with Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead commented about repeated offenders during a public safety update on Monday, Sept. 19.
The population of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County is increasing and while the crime rate is still behind the rate of population growth, the public officials have noted what they called a concerning trend in repeat offenders.
Milstead said because most parole officers are located in the Sioux Falls and Rapid City areas, the cities have an increased number of parolees. Some of those parolees haven’t committed a crime in the area but rural areas may not have the parole staff to handle the need.
The state Department of Corrections said there are also other reasons why parolees live in Sioux Falls and Rapid City.
“Many parolees end up in Sioux Falls and Rapid City because of the availability of resources in the larger metro areas,” the South Dakota Department of Corrections said in an email response to questions from KELOLAND News. “These resources would include treatment and employment opportunities. Checking in with an agent is one requirement but the community supervision agreements require treatment participation, housing, employment, and other conditions.”
TenHaken said in the past four or five years there has been a roughly 50% increase in the number of parolees in the city.
“Many parolees who commit crime are from South Dakota but given our proximity to Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska, we have people on parole from those states that also commit crime in Sioux Falls,” Sioux Falls Police Public Information Officer Sam Clemens said in response to a KELOLAND News question.
Retired judge David Gilbertson of Sioux Falls said it’s important to distinguish which state system covers probation and which covers parole because often the two can be confused.
In general, a convicted criminal may be eligible to qualify for parole unless there is sentence for life. The South Dakota Department of Corrections and its parole board determine who is granted parole. Even if a person is eligible for parole consideration, it does not automatically mean he gets it.
Probation is a sentence that can be given by the judicial system. A person may serve time in a facility but then be placed on probation for a certain period as part of their sentence.
On one hand, Thum said, law enforcement and the criminal justice system want those on parole to be successful after they are released from jail or prison, some aren’t.
The state Department of Corrections lists the following requirements for parolees: Conditions of parole may differ for each inmate, but provisions such as obeying all laws, maintaining contact with the assigned parole agent, submitting to search and seizure at any time, and working diligently at a lawful occupation are standard. Parolees are also prevented from using or possessing any mood altering drugs and weapons. Any violation of these conditions can land the parolee back in prison to serve the remainder of their sentence.
There are parolees who return to criminal activity including drug use and drug involvement.
And there are cases when the parole system has lost track of parolees, TenHaken and Milstead said.
Absconders are parolees “who are not fulfilling the terms of their community supervision agreement and have not reported in with a parole officer,” the DOC said in its email. “When they do not check in with their parole agent as required, the agents issue an “attempt to locate” order and if the parolee does not report or is located, then they are listed as an absconder from supervision.”
“We work with local law enforcement to apprehend these individuals as well as our own efforts in tracking with known family and friends,” the DOC said.
TenHaken cited the recent Labor Day homicide case in Sioux Falls as an illustration of what law enforcement deals with. He described the suspect as a parolee absconder who got ahold of a gun. TenHaken said the suspect had been sentenced to multiple years in prison last year but was released on parole after a few months.
“These are some of the most dangerous people that our officers deal with because they know they are headed back to prison if they are caught,” Milstead said. The suspect may be armed and in a stolen vehicle, he said.
Thum said the police department reviewed the aggravated assaults reported in August and noted two characteristics.
“The majority of the suspects in those crimes were not strangers to the justice system,” Thum said of August aggravated assault crimes.
The other characteristic is an increasing number of victims knew the suspect but would not cooperate with police, Thum said.
Thum said unless there is an increased partnership between the community, law enforcement, criminal justice and other entities, the cycle of repeat offenders will continue.
TenHaken echoed Thum’s thoughts. He described a needed wholistic approach to crime that would include mentoring as well as reviewing the parole and probation system and laws that would help law enforcement do their jobs.
The DOC said in its email to KELOLAND that prison has a role in reducing repeat offenders.
“Treatment and transitional services are a key part of decreasing recidivism. Treatment in prison starts with needing proper facilities and staffing levels which is a focus of the Department of Corrections,” the DOC said. “Transitional services are key for maintaining parole requirements for housing, employment, and continued rehabilitation outside of prison.”
When we see the number of parolees and probation committing crimes, it’s a great opportunity for city and county and state leaders to re-visit laws on sentencing, Milstead said.
Daniel Haggar, the lead state’s attorney in Minnehaha County, said his office works hard to prosecute criminal cases.
That includes “tough-nosed prosecution,” he said.
But Haggar and the three other public officials said there may be ways to safely reduce jail or prison numbers.
Yet, it can’t be simply be done by counting how many people are in jail, Milstead said.
Haggar said the ability to rehabilitate someone, the possibility of education or restitution and appropriate jail and/or prison sentences must be considered.
“My office is committed to holding people accountable,” Haggar said.
The public officials said those released from jail or prison need resources. Resources would include housing, jobs, mental health and drug counseling.
TenHaken cited Senate Bill 70 which he said provides presumption probation for some offenders with certain lower drug crimes as a snag in the system. SB70 needs a review because in some cases, it prevents some suspects from helping law enforcement with drug crimes because the suspect knows he will get probation, TenHaken said.
“Every case is different,” Gilbertson said of how a defendant may respond to providing information to law enforcement. In some cases, the charge the defendant is facing influences whether or not they cooperate, he said.
Also, the charge a defendant receives from the prosecutor can be impacted by whether or not they cooperated, Gilbertson said.
The South Dakota Legislature approved SB70 and it was signed into law in February of 2013. Several key pieces included: establishing presumptive probation for Class 5 and 6 felonies and reclassifying some felonies to lesser felonies, according to the Urban Institute.