Gov's corrections reform estimated to save $162 millionLegislature hears plan to keep more nonviolent offenders out of prison.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE — South Dakota could save an estimated $162 million in the next decade if it adopts a plan to improve the rehabilitation of convicted criminals by treating more nonviolent offenders outside prison walls, a state official told lawmakers Tuesday.
If nothing is done to stem a rapid increase in the number of adult inmates, the state could spend an additional $212 million to build and operate two new prisons in the next 10 years, said Jim Seward, Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s legal counsel.
Using intensive probation and parole along with special courts for drug and alcohol offenders would cost an estimated $51 million over 10 years — nearly $162 million less than the cost of building and running two new prisons over the same time period, Seward said.
A panel appointed by Daugaard, Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson and legislative leaders recommended the proposed changes in South Dakota’s criminal justice system. The proposal was the centerpiece of Daugaard’s State of the State address to the Legislature last week, and Gilbertson talked about the importance of drug and alcohol courts when he delivered his State of the Judiciary speech.
A bill on the issue will get a hearing later this session in a Senate committee, but Seward and other officials on Tuesday briefed the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee on the plan and its projected costs.
South Dakota’s adult inmate population grew from fewer than 550 inmates in 1977 to more than 3,600 last year, outpacing the national growth rate. In November, the state had 3,206 male inmates and 417 female inmates. The study panel reported that South Dakota has 416 inmates for every 100,000 people, far higher than the average imprisonment rate of 307 per 100,000 in the neighboring six states.
If South Dakota continues to lock up offenders at the current rate, the adult prison population will increase by an estimated 900 people in the next decade, the study panel estimated. That would require a new women’s prison in about three years and a new men’s prison by 2020, officials have said.
Seward said the plan for South Dakota includes changes already proven in other states. In the past decade, 17 states lowered their imprisonment rates and overall crime rates, he said.
Seward and other officials said South Dakota can do a better job of rehabilitating inmates through intensive supervision and treatment outside of prison.
“We don’t have the tools to do what we should with individuals who otherwise should be in the community,” Seward said.
Jason Dilges, the governor’s budget director, said lawmakers will be asked to add $3.2 million in one-time money to this year’s budget to get some programs started, and another $4.1 million in additional ongoing spending will be proposed for next year’s state budget.
In addition, the judicial system would get more than $700,000 next year to expand existing special courts that handle drug and alcohol offenders in the Black Hills, Sioux Falls, Yankton and other areas.
Gilbertson said South Dakota was the last state to start the special courts about five years ago. The courts keep people out of prison by putting them in intensive supervision and drug and alcohol treatment. The state’s current drug and alcohol courts have a success rate of about 80 percent, the chief justice said.
The state Department of Social Services will get extra money to expand existing substance abuse and other treatment programs in communities. Extra money also will be available to those counties to cover additional spending on jails and law enforcement because of the increase of offenders on probation.
One of the new programs would be modeled after a successful Hawaii program for offenders with drug problems. Those offenders would find out each day whether they would be subject to drug tests, and would face penalties if they fail those drug tests.
Seward said more than 80 percent of the new inmates admitted to prison each year are convicted of nonviolent offenses, and more than half of them are convicted of drug and alcohol offenses. About one in four inmates is behind bars because of a parole violation, he said.