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New SD Billboards Call Attention to Incarceration Rates

South Dakota's prison population has increased by nearly 400 men and women over the past two years, according to the state's Corrections Commission. (doc.sd.gov)
South Dakota's prison population has increased by nearly 400 men and women over the past two years, according to the state's Corrections Commission. (doc.sd.gov)
August 6, 2018

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A new billboard on a busy Sioux Falls street is part of the ACLU of South Dakota's Smart Justice reform campaign, ahead of the November election.

South Dakota corrections officials have acknowledged that they're struggling to manage a growing prison population due to the state's methamphetamine epidemic.

But Libby Skarin, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, says the billboard campaign makes the point that locking more people up is neither an effective solution nor a good use of taxpayer money.

"We know that our women's prison in Pierre has a record number of inmates and that, generally speaking, we're locking up more and more people in South Dakota,” she points out. “And if we keep going down this road, we're going to have to build new prisons."

The campaign's first billboard is located on North Minnesota Avenue, with the message, "People Not Prisons."

Skarin says the ACLU has also purchased digital billboards from Aug. 13 through the Nov. 6 election, at locations in Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

Native Americans make up 9 percent of South Dakota's population, but 33 percent of the prison population. And only 2 percent of South Dakotans are African American, but they represent more than 7 percent of people incarcerated.

Skarin notes that many factors go into those incarcerations.

"We want to bring attention to and address the profound connection of crime to issues like mental health, addiction, employment, education and housing," she states.

The state will elect a new attorney general this fall, and Skarin says the ACLU wants to make sure voters know the importance of that race, and how much influence the office has over what happens within the criminal justice system.

"The attorney general has a really critical role to play, and a lot of power, so we want people to recognize that they are also constituents of the attorney general, and that they should be communicating their views to him or her," she stresses.

Candidates for attorney general include Democrat Randy Seiler and Republican Jason Ravnsborg.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD