Pennington County gets $1.75 million grant to cut jail population

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN TV) - Pennington County is one of a select few counties in the country to receive a grant that aims to reduce local jail population.

The grant comes from the John P. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and will provide funding for programs intended to reduce incarceration rates in already overcrowded jails, just like the Pennington County Jail. The Pennington County Sheriff's Office, along with the Seventh Circuit court, hope to lower inmate population by 20-24% over the next two years.

Pennington County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Lara Roetzel says, "Our focus is on instituting programs that will help people stop recurring behavior. So we're not looking to forgive crimes necessarily, and we're not deprioritizing fighting crime, we're taking a whole new approach to crime fighting, and that's by treating the underlying issues to make sure that we're prosecuting the right people for the right reasons."

Pennington County Public Defender Eric Whitcher says, "What we've found is that even a few days in jail for minor crimes increases recidivism, meaning it's more likely they're going to commit another crime. So to get them out of jail and to give them other sort of programming so their lives can get on track would be a huge improvement over just locking them up."

In order to achieve the goal, the county says several things will happen, including more efficient case processing, pre-arrest and pre-trial diversion, and enhanced service to those with mental or substance abuse issues who are routinely involved with the justice system.