Pennington County Sheriff’s Office launches inmate rehabilitation plan

When you think of jail, the first thing that comes to mind is usually not education.
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 6:03 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - When you think of jail, the first thing that comes to mind is usually not education. Pennington County is looking to change that by offering training and education to inmates with the hope that it will reduce the number of repeat offenders.

A program called IGNITE is spreading to law enforcement offices all over the country. The program focuses on giving incarcerated people the opportunity to help themselves by teaching them job skills and a chance at education. Pennington County Sheriff Brian Mueller says they have fallen short of addressing rehabilitative care for inmates.

“We’re not doing anything to deal with a lot of their basic needs. We’re not dealing with substance abuse issues while they’re sitting here for days, weeks, months, and sometimes years. We’re not dealing with the fact that some of them don’t have a basic education, some of them don’t have job skills training,” said Mueller.

Mueller explained that equipping inmates with these skills gives them something meaningful to do with their time and makes them less likely to end up incarcerated again.

Lara Roetzel, Pennington County State’s Attorney says this program doesn’t distract from the jail’s main goal of safety.

“The Pennington County Jail should be about safety, it should be about accountability, but it should never be about wasted time or wasted souls,” said Roetzel.

Ignite has the support of local nonprofits like Cornerstone Mission and Elevate Rapid City. Cornerstone plans to implement some of the same plans as Pennington County so that they can benefit the houseless population, many of whom suffer from similar vices.

Rapid City Chief of Police Don Hedrick says these partnerships present an opportunity for someone to turn their life around.

“I think through partnerships we’re going to have the opportunity to give folks that want out of this cycle a chance. Give ‘em a chance and give them those resources they need to break that cycle and break that revolving door,” said Hedrick.

Pennington County Sheriff’s Office will start looking for a coordinator for the program immediately and expects to have the program running in the next few months.