SD House OKs gov's justice reformsSweeping overhaul of state system headed to governor’s desk.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — A major expansion of services in South Dakota’s criminal justice system received final approval Thursday from the Legislature.
The plan calls for more offenders guilty of non-violent crimes to serve their punishments in their communities, living at home and supporting their families while receiving addiction treatment and behavior counseling, amid supervision and daily monitoring by court officers and probation and parole agents.
The hope is that greater use of drug courts, DUI courts and veterans’ courts to get defendants into the right programs for their needs, combined with the threat of sanctions for failing to fulfill judges’ requirements, will slow down the numbers of criminals being sent directly to state prisons to serve months or years behind bars.
South Dakota is forecast to otherwise need a second women’s prison and yet another men’s prison in the next 10 years. The House of Representatives voted 63-7 for the massive reforms package, which calls for spending millions of dollars more annually on community personnel and treatment services as a way to avoid more than $150 million in prison construction costs and the ongoing expenses of more guards and prison personnel.
The legislation’s passage Thursday came less than a month after Gov. Dennis Daugaard had opened the 2013 session by calling for major reforms in South Dakota’s criminal justice system. His call to action was followed the next afternoon by Chief Justice David Gilbertson asking the same of lawmakers.
The Senate had previously voted 31-2 for it. The only legislators to oppose it in either chamber were Republicans.
House Democratic leader Bernie Hunhoff, of Yankton, said Thursday the changes were “probably 20 years overdue.
“Consciously or not, we really had a penchant for incarceration,” he said.
Although they are in opposite political parties, Hunhoff spoke several times about his admiration for the Daugaard administration on the criminal justice initiative.
Hunhoff also praised the court system for its previous advocacy for some of the changes .
“This is a much bigger step than I would have imagined we would take in one legislative session,” Hunhoff said.
Daugaard , a Republican, and Gilbertson, who was a Democrat before he was appointed to the non-partisan post of judge, set the changes in motion last March, when they and members of their staffs began collecting information and advice. Approximately 400 people were contacted and 36 meetings were held.
Eventually Daugaard , Gilbertson and the two leaders of the Legislature’s Republican majorities, Rep. David Lust, of Rapid City, and Sen. Russ Olson, of Wentworth, appointed a task force whose members delivered their recommendations in November. Those were further refined in the past two months.