Senate panel OKs criminal justice planBill uses programs to divert offenders from prison, prevent future criminal activity.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE — A wide-ranging plan to cut South Dakota’s prison costs by treating more nonviolent offenders in community programs passed its first test Friday in the state Legislature.
The Senate State Affairs Committee voted unanimously DAUGAARD to approve the measure, which is backed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson and legislative leaders. The bill, written by an appointed panel, next goes to the full Senate. The measure would use intensive probation and parole, along with special courts and other programs that treat drug and alcohol offenders, as part of an effort to divert offenders from prison and prevent them from committing future crimes.
If nothing is done to curb a rapid increase in adult inmates, the state would have to spend an estimated $212 million to build and operate a new men’s prison and a new women’s prison in the next decade, officials have said. The proposed programs would cost about $51 million, a difference of $162 million.
Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, a former police chief, said the measure is a compromise reached by all those involved in the criminal justice system, but represents a change in how they’ll seek to rehabilitate offenders.
“I think that profound shift in policy will not only save tax dollars, it will certainly change lives in South Dakota for the better,” said Tieszen, a member of the panel that wrote the plan.
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.
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.
And if the lock-up rate holds steady, South Dakota’s adult prison population will increase by an estimated 900 people in the next decade, the study panel estimated.
Supporters also said sending offenders to prison isn’t working, as many return to drinking, using drugs and committing crimes when they are released.
So the proposal would reserve prisons for chronic, violent offenders, while enhanced probation and parole supervision would help nonviolent offenders avoid committing new crimes.
The bill would expand existing special courts that divert drug and alcohol offenders from prison as long as they get treatment, stay clean, get jobs and obey the law. It also would create a new program that keeps drug offenders out of prison as long as they pass random drug tests.
But not everyone feels the measure is the salve for South Dakota’s imprisonment problems.
Jason Bjorklund, a Sioux Falls business owner, told the committee he believes the measure violates the state Constitution because it deals with more than one subject. Bjorklund also said he supports 90 percent of the bill’s provisions, but they should be addressed with separate bills.
Jim Seward, the governor’s legal counsel, disagreed with Bjorklund, saying the bill is constitutional because all provisions deal with public safety.
The committee also heard objections about a provision of the bill that removes rarely used preliminary hearings for those charged with Class 1 misdemeanors — crimes punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,000.
Those hearings, which are intended to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to go to trial, would still be available for those charged with felonies.
Seward said out of 22,000 misdemeanor charges filed last year, only 185 were dismissed.
If no preliminary hearings are held for misdemeanors, then law enforcement, prosecutors and court officials can spend more time on rehabilitation programs, he said.