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Attorney General Marty Jackley

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Attorney General Mark Vargo announces expansion of Oyate Court criminal justice reform effort

CONTACT: Stewart Huntington, 605-773-6878

PIERRE, S.D. – Attorney General Mark Vargo announced today that a groundbreaking criminal justice partnership between state prosecutors and tribal communities that began in Pennington County is spreading. Zach Pahlke, the Tripp County State’s Attorney, has asked Pastor Jonathan Old Horse to advise him on how a program similar to Rapid City’s Oyate Court can be implemented in Tripp County.

“I’m very excited about the prospects in my jurisdiction for the kind of approach developed in Pennington County,” said Pahlke. The Oyate Court was developed in Pennington County while Vargo was State’s Attorney there. Administered under the office’s diversion program, certain state cases are handed off to the Oyate Court where a circle of Lakota Elders hears from all parties involved in a dispute or crime and determines solutions that often involve restitution and are designed to build safer communities. The Oyate Court process is a direct outgrowth of ancient Peacemaking Circles, a tradition deeply ingrained in Native American cultures.

“We have generations of data in this country that show simply locking people up does not solve our community’s problems,” said Old Horse, who is the pastor at Rapid City’s Woyatan Lutheran Church. “We have shown that using Peacekeeping Circles can be effective in a modern judicial setting. I am excited that other State’s Attorneys are interested in exploring our approach.”

Pahlke and Old Horse said they planned to begin soon the process of establishing an Oyate Court in Tripp County. “Oyate Court is one of the most promising new approaches we have come across,” said Vargo. “I am pleased to see that it might be taking root beyond Pennington County.”