Media Contact

Janna Farley,

October 20, 2021

South Dakota imprisons Black adults at a rate higher than the national average, according to a new report from The Sentencing Project.

One in 60 Black South Dakotans is in prison, the report found. Black people make up just 2 percent of the state’s population, but comprise 8 percent of the South Dakota prison population. The report, released this month, used data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics to calculate states’ rates of imprisoning white residents and people of color. 

“Despite widespread agreement that more needs to be done to achieve racial equity in the criminal legal system, the statistics are deeply troubling,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “This report bolsters the case for a bold, forward-looking reform agenda that will prioritize people, not prisons, in a racially just way – and that’s going to require leadership and commitment from our legislators, police, district attorneys, judges, and people in each part of the system.”

Though Native Americans weren’t included in The Sentencing Project’s report, the disparities between Indigenous South Dakotans and whites is even greater. Native Americans make up just 9 percent of the state’s total adult population, but more than 35 percent of the prison population, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the South Dakota Department of Corrections.

“Urgent work remains for advocates, policymakers and communities across the state to focus on efforts like policing and prosecutorial reform that are specific to combating these disparities,” Jonelis said.

The Sentencing Project’s report is below.

About the ACLU of South Dakota

Based in Sioux Falls, the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of South Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes North Dakota and Wyoming. The team in South Dakota is supported by staff in those states.

The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people. In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women and the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit communities. The ACLU of South Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of South Dakota.