OUR VIEW: Prison not always the best optionState Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson said alternatives to prison, such as drug courts, alcohol courts and more intensive probations, should be considered as a way to slow the rise in South Dakota’s prison population. We like his thinking.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson said something recently that caught our attention.
In an Associated Press report about rising prison numbers in South Dakota, Gilbertson said there may need to be more good reform alternatives when punishing criminals.
“When I was a trial judge you had two choices: either put somebody on probation or send them to the pen. In many of those instances, neither option is what I would liked to have seen,” he said. Gilbertson said other alternatives, such as drug courts, alcohol courts and more intensive probations, should be considered as a way to slow the rise in South Dakota’s prison population. We like his thinking.
Consider that the state’s prison population has grown by more than 500 percent since 1980, to more than 3,600 inmates. Those prisoners cost more than $100 million per year. A statewide study team has been assembled to discuss and investigate the problem.
We do agree that prison may not always be the best option for some offenders. And basic, traditional probation doesn’t seem to be doing much to keep prison numbers down.
Obviously, new avenues need to be considered, so we view the formation of the new task force as a good thing. Hopefully, it will find some answers.
We hope the task force members use the state 24/7 program as an example.
The idea was born as a test program in 2004 under then-Attorney General Larry Long. In 2007, the Legislature approved the 24/7 Sobriety program, expanding it statewide. Courts now have the discretion to assign DUI offenders to the program, which requires offenders to submit to twice-daily alcohol tests to prove their sobriety.
In an in-depth report last year, The Daily Republic noted that between February and October 2010, approximately 16,800 people were placed in the program. Of the 3.42 million tests administered during that span, there was a 99.3 percent pass rate.
Is getting problem drinkers clean and sober better than simply sending them to prison?
We think so (although we still passionately believe that multiple DUI offenders should face stiffer penalties, including prison).
The 24/7 program is a success, and hopefully can be used as a shining example of how intensive, state-backed programs can aid in keeping offenders out from behind bars.More from around the web