OUR VIEW: Justice reform worthy of a tryThe governor has said that it’s not about being hard or soft on crime; rather, it’s about being “smart on crime.”
South Dakota needs to somehow get a better hold on its growing prison population. It seems the Legislature is in tune with this, and ready to make some decisions that might help.
During a District 20 cracker barrel session Saturday, the district’s three delegates spoke about sweeping changes proposed for the state’s prison system. In recent weeks, Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson have endorsed plans to change who is sent to prison in South Dakota and how those people could be better served under new rules.
The governor has said that it’s not about being hard or soft on crime; rather, it’s about being “smart on crime.”
The gist is this: Instead of knee-jerk reactions that send drug users to prison, Daugaard, Gilbertson and legislative leaders instead propose programs that would concentrate more on probation and closer supervision. Not only would there be a savings to the state, but it also would be easier on the families of those who otherwise would be sent to jail.
During Saturday’s cracker barrel, state Rep. Lance Carson, R-Mitchell, said each prisoner in the state penitentiary costs the state about $25,000. Many of the state’s male inmates and more than half of the women inmates have used or are addicted to meth, Carson said, and simply sending them to prison isn’t working. Meanwhile, the bills keep adding up.
So the idea is to install better probationary programs — not for violent offenders, and not for drug dealers, but simply for those who are convicted of using certain drugs.
We must say that on the surface, we worry about such programs. More users roaming the streets gives us reason to worry.
But we’re laymen when it comes to drugs, drug offenders and drug rehabilitation programs. When the governor and chief justice of the state Supreme Court say it’s worth a try, we’re willing to listen — especially if the state can potentially save millions of dollars annually.
New drug courts, improved supervisory punishments — such as the state 24/7 program — and more probation may truly be the better answer. Time will tell.
We stress, however, that repeat offenders shouldn’t be coddled, whether it’s drugs, DUIs or any other so-called “non-violent” offense that still endangers the public.
Saturday, Rep. Tona Rozum, R-Mitchell, noted that 80 percent of the state’s prison population is non-violent. And Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, said these new proposals will offer a second chance to those who deserve it. He feels such a system will work better than South Dakota’s current method, which is causing crowded prisons and proving costly to state taxpayers.
We’re willing to give it a shot.