Native Americans represent 10 percent of the population in Pennington County, South Dakota, but are 51 percent of the jail population. Graphic by Native Sun News Today

Native Sun News Today: Native Americans over-represented in county jail population

Number of Indians in Pennington County Jail much higher than white inmates

By Kimberly Greager

Native Sun News Today Correspondent

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA - Native Americans only make up about 10% of Pennington County’s population, but 51% of the people jailed in Pennington County are Indian.

On October 3, it was announced that Pennington County received $1.75 million dollars from the MacArthur Grant as part of the Safety + Justice Challenge, a national movement to reduce the overall jail populations.

According to the Safety + Justice Challenge website, the grant money received by Pennington County and 7 others will be used to “develop comprehensive plans for their local justice systems that eliminate unfair and ineffective or inefficient practices that take a particularly heavy toll on people of color, low-income communities, and people with mental health and substance abuse issues.”

“Jurisdictions participating in the Challenge will develop and model effective ways to keep people out of jail who don’t belong there, more effectively reintegrate those who must be confined into the community upon release, and help them stay out of jail thereafter," the website states. "In doing so, they will demonstrate alternatives to incarceration as usual, creating models for reducing unnecessary jail use to make communities healthier, fairer, and safer.”

Native Americans are overrepresented in the Pennington County justice system. As part of their efforts to reduce the Native jail population, Pennington County will conduct tribal outreach on reservations and implement initiatives including: Issuance of state and/or tribal identification; Community service and jail service opportunities within the reservations; Warrant resolution; and unilateral extradition.

The Pennington County Jail in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo: Jimmy Emerson

Native Sun News Today asked the Pennington County Sheriff’s office to expound on the four main strategies they plan to implement and how they will affect the Native American population: Increased Focus on Risk Assessment and Treatment; New Pretrial Alternatives; Measures to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities; and Greater Efficiencies in the Way the Courts Process Cases.

It is Pennington County’s goal to reduce the overall jail population by 20 - 24% over the next two years. You can find out more about this at

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