South Dakota Leads Nation on Jail Admissions, New Report Finds
Nearly half of all arrests in the state are drug or alcohol related, compared to just 29 percent nationally.
Raven Rakia, Ethan Corey Sep 18, 2019
South Dakota, one of the least populated states in the country, jails the most people per capita, according to a new report from Prison Policy Initiative. The state jailed roughly 25,000 people in 2016, nearly 3 percent of the state’s population and almost twice the national average. That’s despite the fact that its crime rate is below the national average.
The new data builds on a report released by the group last month, which found that 4.9 million people cycle through jail nationally each year. More than a quarter were arrested multiple times, with Black arrestees jailed repeatedly at three times the rate of their white counterparts.
The report highlights the impact of incarceration. “Even short stints in jail can throw an individual’s life into disarray by forcing them to miss work, isolating them from loved ones, and cutting off any medications they are taking,” it states.
People in South Dakota are disproportionately arrested for drug offenses and nonviolent crimes. Nearly half of all arrests in South Dakota are drug or alcohol related, compared to just 29 percent nationally. And 85 percent of all arrests in the state are for nonviolent offenses, slightly above the national average. Advocates say the data suggests South Dakota is using the criminal legal system to address issues like substance use and poverty, which they say would be better dealt with in other ways.
“We can’t incarcerate our way out of addiction,” Libby Skarin, policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota, told the Appeal by email. Skarin said the charge “unauthorized ingestion of controlled drug or substance,” which allows police to arrest people who have taken illegal drugs, even if they no longer possess them, should be reclassified as a misdemeanor, and that the state should invest more in diversion and treatment programs for substance use disorders.