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SD Supreme Court Judge Says Look At Poverty To Understand Incarceration Rates


Two of South Dakota’s five Supreme Court justices say issues of justice for minorities in the state are more about poverty than race. Those comments came during a Sioux Falls Rotary meeting on Monday, July 11.

The Sioux Falls Rotary met to discuss exactly how the state’s highest court receives and, subsequently, hears cases.

When asked about how the state administers justice toward minorities in South Dakota, Supreme Court justice Glen Severson says he thinks the state’s judicial system is fair, but he says that’s not the full story.

“There are disparate numbers in arrests of people of color, both natives and other people,” Severson says. “One of the things to keep in mind, however, is you can’t just look at conviction numbers and incarceration numbers. You have to look at this whole society issue of poverty and what else may contribute to someone who are doing the acts that get them brought into the system as well.”

Justice Lori Wilbur echoes that sentiment. She says judges need to watch how they make their decisions.

Credit ujs.sd.gov
Justice Lori Wilbur

“If you’re on the bench and you’re cranking through 50 or 100 cases and your implicit biases come out and you’re refusing bond for one person and giving it to another person, you have to stop and say to yourself ‘Is there a reason for why I’m treating this one differently than that one.’ Implicit biases are a large part of what the problems are that are coming to a head with what’s going on in our nation.”

Wilbur says the best way to check ones bias is to slow down and assess why one rules a certain way.

The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled on 50 cases so far this year.