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Report on Prisoners with Disabilities Acknowledges SD Leadership

Thousands of South Dakota prisoners are living with disabilities, and advocates say the state is making positive moves to help returning citizens reintegrate into society. (iStockphoto)
Thousands of South Dakota prisoners are living with disabilities, and advocates say the state is making positive moves to help returning citizens reintegrate into society. (iStockphoto)
June 27, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. – A new report shows that 32 percent of inmates in federal prisons and 40 percent of people in jails have at least one disability.

The study from the disability advocacy group RespectAbility says any effort at prison reform needs to take that reality into account.

And one area of importance that RespectAbility identifies is helping prisoners find employment when they're paroled.

To that end, the group credits South Dakota for being tops in the nation when it comes to employment for people with disabilities.

Even so, employment after incarceration remains a nationwide problem.

Philip Pauli, policy and practices director for RespectAbility, says 75 percent of all prisoners are re-arrested within five years of release.

"Because they aren't being given jobs, they aren't being trained to find a career or find services or find secure housing,” he points out. “There is a real serious need for any reform measure to really consider early interventions, accommodations and improving reintegration supports."

The report credits South Dakota for "investing heavily in training, mentorship and support services."

And as state and federal lawmakers continue to debate criminal justice reforms, Pauli is asking them to pay particular attention to disability issues because there is a serious gap in understanding how they affect people in the justice system.

"People with disabilities interact with courts and police as victims, as witnesses and as perpetrators,” he states. “And yet, at every level, people in the system really don't understand the impact of disabilities, particularly those of invisible disabilities, like cognitive or executive function disorders."

The report lists several suggestions that states, including South Dakota, could take to help lower recidivism rates.

These include giving inmates with mental disorders a 30-day supply of medication when they leave prison, and making health insurance access easier.



Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - SD