Pennington County, SD

Change in Jail Population 24%

Action Areas Community Engagement Courts Diversion Interagency Collaboration Pretrial Services

Last Updated


Native Americans are overrepresented in Pennington County’s jail. Though Native Americans make up 10-20% of the population, more than 50% of the daily jail population is Native American, as of January 2021. This is exacerbated by a long history of distrust between the Native American communities and the County, inspiring strategies related to building relationships with the neighboring Tribal communities and reducing disparities.

In addition, in recent years Pennington County has experienced a methamphetamine epidemic, causing felony drug arrests to increase by 200% between November 2015 and April 2019.

Last, pretrial release is a significant driver of the county’s jail population. The jail pretrial population alone made up roughly 92% of the total jail population as of January 2021.


Pennington County continues to advance a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all. This work started by analyzing data to identify areas of need, and using that information to seek out safe, smart solutions.



The Jail Population Review Team is made up of representatives from the State’s Attorney's Office, Public Defender’s Office, Probation, and a coordinator who compiles the information. The team reviews people currently held in jail who may be eligible for release, or whose cases may be delayed. The team began meeting regularly in March 2019, and more frequently in response to emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.



The Care Campus is a social service complex that provides a single point of entry for mental health and substance use services. Safe Solutions at the Care Campus opened in 2018. It offers a safe place for people to sleep if they are intoxicated. This helps keep people with substance use disorders from entering or being involved further in the criminal justice system.



Pennington County has a robust system to remind people about their upcoming court hearings. In January 2019, the program began with calls and by mid-2019, transitioned to text messages. People who cannot afford or simply do not have access to phones can receive court reminders at the Hope Center (a local day center), and/or through the Health and Human Services Case Managers at the Care Campus.



Throughout Pennington County’s involvement in the Safety and Justice Challenge, community outreach and relationship development have been front and center. Using culturally appropriate community programming has also helped reduce the overall jail population.



To address racial and ethnic disparities, Pennington County works with community stakeholders to implement programming and assist individuals with navigating through the criminal justice system. Their focus has been not only to find and implement measures to reduce racial inequities, but also to find ways to make cases move more efficiently through the criminal justice system.



Along with the implementation of additional pretrial strategies, the Community Work Program originally began in August 2018 as a sentencing alternative. Since that time, it has grown to also provide alternatives to people with Child Support cases, and individuals with a Probation or Specialty Court sanction.


As a result of the strategies above, Pennington County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Pennington County (2016-2024)

24% from baseline

More Results

By implementing pretrial strategies, Pennington County has reduced the number of bookings for non-violent, low-level offenses by 76% between January 2018 and January 2021. Racial and ethnic disparities in the jail population have decreased as well. During that same timeframe, Pennington County saw a 22% reduction in Native Americans referred to the jail.

Between the first meeting in March 2018 through January 2021, the Jail Population Review Team has been able to look more closely at 1,225 individuals to determine if they would be able to be safely released from jail. As a result, 25% of people in jail were both recommended and approved for release, meaning that people spent over 5,196 days at home with their families, instead of in jail.

The Court Notifications program has delivered 66,770 reminders to people awaiting their court hearings between January 2019 and January 2021. Although the data is not yet available to directly connect the messages with court appearance, participant responses show that the reminders are extremely helpful, not only helping people remember court dates but also answering their questions and helping them find services.

Since its launch in August 2018, 425 people have been referred to the Community Work Program as an alternative to jail. Instead of remaining in the jail and away from their families and communities, they completed more than 7,000 hours of community service.

The Care Campus and Safe Solutions program made significant progress in keeping people struggling with substance use from entering or going further into the justice system. Since its opening in September 2018, the Care Campus has had 54,563 admissions of people with substance use disorders. Of these, 70% were admissions into Safe Solutions.

Beyond the statistics, these and other programs supported by the Safety and Justice Challenge have touched the lives of people in Pennington County. For example, a 28-year-old single mother contacted the 1-800 warrant resolution number—one of the strategies the county is advancing as part of local justice reform. She shared that she had two non-violent, low-level warrants. She had been offered a job within her community as a case worker but could not be officially offered the job with her active warrants. After being easily connected to the Safety and Justice Challenge Attorney Liaison, she provided the required documents, her warrants were cleared, her cases were dismissed, and she was able to accept the job.

Remaining Challenges

Pennington County continues to experience a high number of people awaiting trial within the jail. In order to respond, the Pretrial Monitoring Program began as a pilot in 2020. Program staff helps individuals waiting for case disposition to make sure they attend their next hearing without further contact with law enforcement. The county is seeking ways to grow more opportunities to release people before their trial begins.

Pennington County also continues to work to address racial and ethnic disparities in their local justice system, particularly the over-representation of Native Americans in the jail. The county continues to conduct tribal outreach and engagement on reservations and with Pennington County communities with the goal of reducing the over-representation of Native Americans in the jail system. While relationships with tribal communities have improved, there is still progress to be made.

Last, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the county’s local justice system. The foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies, has set the county up well to respond to the pandemic effectively.

Lead Agency

Pennington County Sheriff and the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court of South Dakota

Contact Information

Liz Hassett


Rapid City Police Department, Pennington County Public Defender's Office, Pennington County State's Attorney's Office, Rapid City Attorney's Office, Pennington County Health and Human Services, Pennington County Commission, and key community providers and stakeholders including I.Am.Legacy and Seven Directions among others.

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