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Inmates sit inside the Pennington County Jail in a 2017 file photo.

Community members impacted by and hoping to reform the criminal justice system are encouraged to apply to a new work group. 

Victims, formerly incarcerated people and family members of incarcerated individuals will make up the backbone of the new Criminal Justice Community Engagement Work Group (CJCEW), one of Pennington County's initiatives with the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge. 

"We feel the folks who are navigating through this system and are closest to the problem are also closest to the solution," Erik Bringswhite, community outreach coordinator for the Safety and Justice Challenge, said in a video. "My dream is to create a community that's equitable and fair for all community members."

The group is looking for "worker bees" who can commit to showing up and making a difference, said Carolyn Olson, a prosecutor with the Pennington County State's Attorney Office. "We'd like that community input to be from the inside out, so that our community's voice can be heard and presented to the county's criminal justice players."

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The group will plan and host focus groups, community meetings, and listening and information sessions; review materials for public education campaigns; and develop communication strategies between criminal justice organizations and community members, according to the application

The five to seven community members will be paid up to 10 hours per month at $20 per hour. The group will also have two or three people who work within the criminal justice system.

The group is funded through a $300,000 community engagement grant awarded in December 2018 from the Safety and Justice Challenge. The funding comes after the $1.75 million grant the county received in October 2017 to address inequality within the criminal justice system and reduce its jail population by 20 percent by October 2019.

Despite reform efforts, the Pennington County Jail population grew between 2017 to 2018. Sheriff Kevin Thom said the reforms aren't able to keep up with the meth crisis. 

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— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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