The rate of incarceration of South Dakota women has risen by 110% in the past decade. Governor Dennis Daaugard has said if that number doesn’t start to decrease, the state will have to build a new women’s facility by 2015.
As of October, 434 women make up the inmate population in Pennington County. The recidivism rate for those women after a year is 18.75% according to the South Dakota Department of Corrections.
“Rather than somebody just getting to Rapid City and getting off the bus and wishing them good luck, they can have an i.d., they can have a place to stay, maybe a job, some emotional support,” said Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom.
Sheriff Thom is on–board with the Passages program, which is designed to provide temporary housing for previously imprisoned women.
“We’ll be starting with about 8 women and we can grow to a capacity of 12 in this first house,” said Carol Kelley, executive director of Passages..
The house will undergo renovations and will open its doors for 18 months to the first group of women in March. Kelley says a similar program in Idaho, along with her foster family, inspired her to build a transitional living house in Rapid City.
“Those foster children were looking forward to reuniting with their mother once she got out of prison. They did get reunited but she ended up going right back to prison and that just broke their hearts, so our hearts as well,” Kelley said.
Kelley says she wants to prevent more hearts from being broken by providing a safe and nurturing environment for women to change the way they think about their lives as well as their children’s. Sheriff Thom says he’s hopeful. “Their chances of success are so much greater in that environment than just getting here cold and not having any resources,” Thom said.