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November 20, 2019

An interesting slice of data thanks to South Dakota being on meth

Download (4)I trust some of you have seen the (widely lampooned) new anti-drug campaign in South Dakota under the banner “Meth: We’re On It.”  Beyond thinking about how these campaigns get developed, I was really intrigued by this New Republic article that highlighted some data about drug crimes and punishments in South Dakota.  The piece is headlined "Locking People Up: South Dakota’s On It: South Dakota's viral meth prevention campaign masks a punitive, racist reality."  Here are the excerpts that struck me as blogworthy in the wake of our recent discussions (links from the original):

South Dakota has a penchant for putting people in jail.  Specifically, South Dakota jails drug offenders, and particularly Native citizens, at rates that boggle the mind.  And it’s the state’s lock-em-up approach to what is, at its core, a public health and economic crisis that shows not just the absurdity, but also the disingenuousness, of this new campaign.

Looking at the incarcerated population, 64 percent of the women in South Dakota prisons are there for drug arrests; 28 percent of men are locked up for the same reason.  Both of those rates are at least double the national average.  The soaring rates of drug arrests — up 148 percent from 2010, with over 3,000 meth-specific arrests in 2018 — unsurprisingly coincide with the state citizenry’s soaring rate of drug use and substance abuse.  In the first six months of 2019 alone, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized 78 pounds of meth in South Dakota; it grabbed just 66 pounds in all of 2018.

Within these already alarming statistics exists another trend: Natives make up 8.7 percent of the South Dakota population but account for half of all arrests in the entire state. On the whole, Native citizens are thrown in jail at a rate 10 times that of white South Dakotans.  State officials recently estimated that if one were to add the reservation crime stats to those kept by the state — tribal law enforcement is handled by a combination of the Native nation’s own police force and federal law enforcement — South Dakota’s crime rate would double.

All of the above trends continue despite the fact that, in 2013, the state legislature passed legislation aimed at addressing prison overcrowding by, theoretically, reducing penalties for nonviolent offenders.  However, the South Dakota ACLU found in August that, six years out from the legislative updates, the overall prison population was just barely smaller than it would have been without the bills: a difference of 281 people.

November 20, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Race and gender issues | Permalink


South Dakota's Governor, Kristi Noem, tweeted on Nov. 19, 2019: "3,366 people were arrested last year because of meth in SD. 13 people died. These numbers are more than just statistics. They’re missing faces. Empty chairs. Meth is an epidemic in our state, and we ALL need to pay attention. Let’s get on it. #MethWeAreOnIt". While her tweet illustrates some of the real tragedies that are caused by drug epidemics, it also shows the disconnect in some of our enforcement policies. As Professor Berman noted in his blog post, South Dakota's incarceration rates are dramatically higher than other states, especially for drug offenses and for non-white populations like Natives. There certainly should be a serious discussion about the disparate impact of incarceration on Natives and how it ties to other statistical indicators/outcomes (for example, Native populations in the U.S. and Canada often report higher levels of both psychological and economic depression; how does incarceration and collateral consequences exacerbate these issues?).

However, I think another important discussion too (which I want to delve more into in this post) is whether incarceration can serve an important drug rehabilitative purpose, especially for rural areas where medical access is severely limited. In the one sense, incarceration does aggregate individuals who are dealing with drug addictions and allows for the government to focus resources on those centers (arguably promoting an efficient use of resources). Yet, the prison environment can also be counter-productive to long-term treatment and re-integration in society. While many offenses can be ascribed to mental conditions, severe drug use can present unique challenges in terms of addressing both addiction and substance dependency. There are both internal and external stimuli that shape addiction. Prisons are not typically designed to effectively address both sets of stimuli in an environment modeled off of "general society" (even the argument that prisons prevent the access of drugs is questionable, just read the U.S. D.O.J.'s letter to the Alabama Governor about the deplorable state of its prisons). Arguably, rehabilitation facilities can better assist individuals with those struggles and can better target treatment to achieve the goal of re-integrating the individual into society. As discussed in previous posts, incarceration presents a litany of collateral consequences that can impede re-integration. Further, treatment programs often rely on the support of the affected individual's loved ones. Prisons mandate a series of security protocols that not only remove the individual from the community but also largely block the community from the individual. This effect can limit the proper development of support networks once an individual is back in society.

While resource availability is an important consideration, as is the price tag on programs (consider the debate over whether to have EMS responders revive over-dosed individuals with naloxone), I also think it is important that we begin considering options with appropriate weights, such as: efficacy of the method adopted; potential impact a rehabilitated individual may have on the economy, taxation, and society; how collateral consequences may diminish future returns; and ultimately, how do we quickly get more people back in their chairs, as Gov. Noem put it.

Posted by: TJ Beavers | Nov 21, 2019 2:16:54 PM

When we think about representation of minority populations in the prison system, Native Americans are often excluded from this discussion. I can candidly admit that I am not sure I have ever thought about how the prison system impacts Native populations.

I think all of us have probably watched the documentary 13th or had some reaction to the ways in which African-American individuals are treated disproportionately in America's prison systems. It's surprising then that the social discussions surrounding incarceration and race have virtually ignored the impact on Native American people who comprise over two percent of the national population. I was curious if South Dakota was an outlier with respect to its treatment of Natives or if this was a national trend and--you guessed it--it's a national trend. For states with significant Native populations, each state had a significantly higher representation of Native Americans in its prison systems compared to the population of those groups in the state overall. For example, Minnesota boasts an incarceration rate of Natives eight percent higher than its overall state population. Alaska posted the most significant numbers with Natives accounting for nearly forty percent of its prison population despite Native comprising only fifteen percent of its overall population.

What seems to be even more surprising is that Native Americans are disproportionately impacted by incarceration more than any other racial or ethnic group outside of African-Americans.

Statistics with respect to states with higher Native populations can be found at: https://michaelleroyoberg.com/current-events/incarceration-rates-for-native-americans/

Statistics by race for each state can be found at: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/profiles/

Posted by: Micaela Taylor | Nov 22, 2019 9:20:42 AM

Putting aside the questionable attempt at marketing, South Dakota clearly has not made the kind of progress that we would hope for in dealing with their approach to substance abuse, particularly as it intersects with race. That said, I think it should be highlighted that South Dakota has recognized the problem and is still making efforts. Certainly, as demonstrated by the South Dakota ACLU’s research, progress has been slow if not non-existent, but it’s not as if South Dakota has abandoned their efforts. Much of the attention has been drawn to their marketing approach, but this takes attention away from the other efforts they are still making. As the New Republic article mentioned, the “on meth” public awareness campaign is being accompanied by a partnership between the state and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe to run the first and only tribe-operated Intensive Methamphetamine Treatment Program in the state. While the article is quick to condemn this effort as not even “remotely sufficient” to address the drug crisis, the effort represents a step in the right direction. The state has recognized and acted on the fact that merely drawing attention to an issue and locking people up is not an approach likely to bring about great success. Instead, they are now shifting to a more medically-driven approach that is cognizant of the deep racial inequalities underlying both the medical and judicial systems in South Dakota. Is this single initiative enough to combat years of inequality? Probably not, but it is still a sign that South Dakota may be changing their perception of the problem and begin looking at the issue as one that can be addressed medically and collaboratively rather than judicially and punitively.

Posted by: Justin McCuen | Nov 25, 2019 10:47:21 AM

The statistics are interesting, but only tell part of the story. It is difficult to compare South Dakota to the overall national trend as it has a unique population. It is one of the most sparsely populated states and has different economic and practical problems than the most populous states. For reasons outside of the criminal justice system, the native population of South Dakota faces numerous disadvantages. They have the highest unemployment rate in the state. They also have the lowest rate of marriage. Add this to the sparsity of the population, which makes resources less available than in denser populations. As seen in other rural areas of economic depression, this is a recipe for high drug abuse rates, be it opiates or meth. Given this, it is hard to agree that "The essential question is why the state’s response has been to throw people, and overwhelmingly Native people, in prison rather than carve out the funds for prevention and rehabilitation." This is not an honest question at its heart. It creates an unnecessary dichotomy between enforcing the law and providing preventative or rehabilitative services. It assumes the availability of funds and ability to get help where it is needed (or get people to treatment facilities). It fails to recognize that unique problems may require unique solutions, and South Dakota may need to figure out how to meet the needs of a population that is quite different from other areas of the country.

Posted by: Adam C Kennett | Nov 25, 2019 2:17:26 PM

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