Elisabeth L. O'Toole, J.D.

Professor, Social Science and Criminal Justice

Professor O'Toole started teaching at USF in 1998. She earned her Bachelors Degree (English, Theater), Masters Degree (Education Administration), and Juris Doctorate at the University of South Dakota. Prior to her arrival at USF, she worked for the SD Supreme Court (Law Clerk to Justice Robert Amundson), the SD Department of Corrections (Juvenile Justice Specialist), and the SD Department of Commerce and Regulation (Division of Insurance) as Division Counsel & Assistant Attorney General. 

Professor O'Toole teaches Criminal Justice, Political Science, and Sociology courses to undergraduate students as a tenured faculty member at the University of Sioux Falls.  She was promoted to Full Professor in 2012. She researched and developed the curriculum for the Criminal Justice major in 2000-2001, and she has worked extensively to recruit and retain many of the approximately 100 students each year who enroll as criminal justice majors.  She serves as an Academic Advisor in a variety of Social Science disciplines, and she serves as the Pre-Law advisor to numerous students throughout the university community.  Professor O'Toole received the Excellence in Teaching Award from USF National Society of Leadership and Success in 2014. She was named one of two Outstanding Faculty members for the 2006-2007 academic year and the 2000-2001 academic year, and she was also named the Outstanding Part-time Faculty member for the 1998-1999 academic year. She received the student-nominated award for Outstanding Academic Advising and Mentoring in December, 2006.

Professor O'Toole works extensively with service learning and community partnerships in public/private K-12 schools and various criminal justice agencies in Sioux Falls and throughout South Dakota. Her teaching and research interests involve working with system-involved youth and adults and serving social agencies which provide support to the South Dakota criminal justice system.  


  • J.D., Law, University of South Dakota School of Law, 1991
  • M.A., Education Administration, University of South Dakota, 1991

Courses Taught

  • PSC211 - American Federal Government
  • PSC212 - State/Local Government
  • CRJ219 - Service Learning - Mentoring
  • CRJ305 - Juvenile Justice
  • CRJ308 - Ethics and the Law
  • CRJ318 - Issues in Current Research
  • CRJ320 - The Science & Law of Evidence
  • CRJ328 - Evidence II
  • CRJ405 - Constitutional Issues & CriminalJustice Cases
  • CRJ440 - Capital Punishment
  • CRJ470 - Practicum
  • SOC202 - Social Problems
  • CRJ/SOC300 - Crime in Film
  • SOC310 - Delinquency and Criminology
  • SOC390 - Social Issues & Community Policing
  • SOC400 - Justice & Service
  • SSC283 - Experiencing Island Culture

Professional Memberships

South Dakota State Bar Association
Academy of Criminal Justice Science


  • Juvenile Justice
  • Capital Punishment
  • Constitutional Law
  • Criminology
  • Forensic Evidence
  • Service Learning


Professor O'Toole has done extensive research in the area of capital punishment and public opinion, specifically that of South Dakota voters.

She is presently conducted a study in 2019-20 to examine the relationship between narrative, data and policy development within the Department of Corrections. This study involved teaching a series of creative writing courses to inmates at the SD State Penitentiary to teach them to construct personal narratives. The narratives are analyzed and compared to existing policies on confinement and community reentry to determine if there are ways to modify policy to benefit offenders and the community on issues of prevention, confinement and reentry.

Professor O'Toole regularly presents at the Academy of Criminal Justice Science and the American Society of Criminology. Past presentations include: 

“Roses from Concrete: Narrative Writing Inside the Walls” Co-presenter with my student (Emelia O’Toole), ACJS Annual Meeting, Spring 2019, Baltimore
“Roses from Concrete” Co-presenter with my student (Emelia O’Toole), and SDSP Warden Darin Young, Spring 2018 USF Undergraduate Research Conference
“Composing Kings and Criminals: A Humanist Study” Co-presenter with my student (Emelia O’Toole), ACJS Annual Meeting, Spring 2018, New Orleans
 “Trial by Twitter: Social Media and the Justice Process”  Co-presenter with a former student, ACJS Annual Meeting, Spring 2014, Philadelphia
“Capital Punishment and Modern Culture: The times they are a-changing”  Panel Chair, ACJS Annual Meeting, Spring 2012, New York City
“I Did it My Way: The Custom of Last Meals and Final Statements on Death Row.”  Co-presenter with my student (Alex Weiss), ACJS Annual Meeting, Spring 2012, New York City
“Building Community through Service:  Lessons Learned from an Integrated School-based Mentoring Program.”  Roundtable presentation, ACJS Annual Meeting, Spring 2010, San Diego  (also presented at Siouxland Undergraduate Research Conference, Spring 2010)
“Public Perception of Capital Punishment: A South Dakota Study”  ACJS Annual Meeting, Spring 2008, Cincinnati
“The Future of Capital Punishment in America” Roundtable presentation, ASC Annual Meeting, Fall 2007, Atlanta
“Public Perception and the Death Penalty”  Roundtable presentation, ASC Annual Meeting, Fall 2007, Atlanta
“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad:  South Dakota Enters the National Debate on Lethal Injection Protocol”  ACJS Conference, Spring 2007, Seattle

Service/Volunteer Work

Fulbright Specialist

I was selected in July, 2011, by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars as a Fulbright Specialist Candidate in the discipline of law.  I was on the Fulbright Specialist Roster until July, 2016. 


Faculty Representative to Board of Trustees

In the Spring of 2010, I was elected by the Faculty Association to serve as the Faculty Representative to the USF Board of Trustees from 2010-2013.

Non-Profit College Scholarship Board

I have served as Vice President since Fall 2016 for the Riggs Premier Football Achievement Fund which awards college scholarships to high school athletes and camp scholarships to children.

Non-profit Board

I served from 2010-2015 on the Board of Directors for the South Dakota Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. 

Volunteer Mentor

I have served as a Mentor to five children over the past 17 years through the LSS School- based Mentoring program.  I continue to mentor on a weekly basis through this program and was nominated by Whittier Middle School as an Outstanding Mentor for 2014-15. I have been paired with my current mentee since he was a third grader at Terry Redlin Elementary School, and he graduated from Washington High School in May, 2020. We continue meeting on a regular basis as he is starting into the work force.

SD Council of Juvenile Services

I was re-appointed in 2020 by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem for a sixth three-year term on the SD Council of Juvenile Services, a 20-member state commission which establishes South Dakota’s policy for juvenile justice issues and funding. I was re-elected as Chair of the Council for a fifth term In December, 2022, and served as Vice Chair of the Council for the two years preceding that. Through my work with the Council, I have specifically worked with grant reviews, disproportionate minority contact, and the state’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative.