Are Native American juveniles being arrested with greater frequency than white youth in Pennington County? The statistics say, yes, but the Pennington County state’s attorney says the county doesn’t have “solid data” to support any conclusion.
What’s known is that of the 2,254 youths arrested in Pennington County in 2012, 907 were whites, 60 blacks, zero Hispanics or Latinos, six Asians, 1,280 American Indians, and one was listed as other. The numbers come from the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI). Also according to JDAI figures, the Rapid City detention center saw its average daily population of juveniles decrease from 19.13 in 2011 to 9.19 in 2012.
The county apparently is making strides by using its diversion program to reduce the number of youths in detention for criminal-type offenses, but the racial makeup of those held in detention is troubling.
"Let me stress we don't have a good mechanized solid data base on this, nobody does — not the court system, not the state's attorney's office, not the police department," State's Attorney Mark Vargo said in a Sept. 18 Journal story. "It's premature to say that there are disproportionate rates of arrest."
The state Council on Juvenile Services gave $60,000 to Pennington County to address the disproportionate number of minority juveniles in the justice system. The county will spend $25,000 to pay for a part-time employee to assemble data now kept on paper records in the state’s attorney office. The other $35,000 will be used for service vouchers to help youths who don’t qualify for government assistance and whose families can’t afford to pay.
Gathering more data from arrest records is essential to deflecting criticism that Native American youths are, in fact, being held in detention in far greater numbers than their population in the county.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Rapid City is about 80 percent white, 12 percent Native American, 1 percent black, and about 7 percent other races. The JDAI numbers for 2012 show that 40.3 percent of the 2,253 juvenile arrests were white, 2.7 percent were black and 56.8 percent were Native American.
The JDAI figures show a significant disparity in the number of juvenile arrests of Native Americans when compared with their representation in Rapid City’s population. Rapid Citians, especially its Native American population, deserve an answer.
We hope that gathering more data that the state’s attorney says is lacking can support a reasonable explanation for juvenile arrest rates in Pennington County.