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Math continues to support drug court efforts, chief justice says

The finances remain firmly on the side of utilizing the state's drug and alcohol courts, the South Dakota's top judge said Thursday in Mitchell. South Dakota Supreme Court Justice David Gilbertson, speaking at the Mitchell Rotary Club's meeting a...

South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson speaks Thursday during the Mitchell Rotary Club meeting at the Ramada Inn in Mitchell. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)
South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson speaks Thursday during the Mitchell Rotary Club meeting at the Ramada Inn in Mitchell. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)
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The finances remain firmly on the side of utilizing the state's drug and alcohol courts, the South Dakota's top judge said Thursday in Mitchell.

South Dakota Supreme Court Justice David Gilbertson, speaking at the Mitchell Rotary Club's meeting at the Ramada Inn, said the cost savings and reduced recidivism rates among targeted offenders has allowed the the state's system to continue working.

For example, Gilbertson said, the state's costs for someone to be in the drug or alcohol court programs are about $8,000 per year. That is about one-third of what it costs taxpayers to house an inmate for a year at a state prison or penitentiary, which is about $20,000 to $25,000 per year.

Individuals in the drug and alcohol court programs also work jobs and provide for their families particularly children. Gilbertson noted there are 450 individuals in the state's drug and alcohol court programs, and 1,244 children under their parents' care. Instead of the state Department of Social Services providing for those children because their parents are in jail - at the estimated cost of $10,000 per year - those children are cared for by their working parents, who are also working to address their drug or alcohol addictions.

"You look at that math, that's the amount the state did not pay last year that they would have if the parents had gone to the pen," Gilbertson said. That totals about $12.4 million. "And the added benefit is that the person is employed and supporting themselves, which isn't happening in the pen."

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The program is for felony offenders who are over the age of 18 and are willing participants, excluding those with violent offenses and targeting those that allow for intensive supervision locally. Gilbertson noted the drug and alcohol program can't be operated in many communities smaller than Mitchell, because the need for local supervision and treatment programs are important. Some participants end up being tested multiple times per day in the program.

Gilbertson noted his own views changed over the years on the subject. He said when he was a prosecutor, he viewed drug court programs as being a get-out-of-jail-free card.

But now, he said it's clear that drug and alcohol treatment courts help keep recidivism low, with an 80 percent success rate.

"They work," he said simply to a room of about 50 community members. "We are in every city in South Dakota that is large enough to support these types of programs because they have the treatment facilities. We're ridding these people, hopefully, of their addictions and getting them back in the workforce and supporting their families. It's a win-win deal for everybody.

Gilbertson also touched on a few other key topics to the state's judicial system:

• Gilbertson served on the task force in 2017 that was involved in studying the University of South Dakota's law school location, whether it should be in Vermillion or moved to Sioux Falls. Gilbertson was among those who voted 8-5 to leave it as is, but said ultimately, the Legislature and Board of Regents will have the final say. The costs of building new facilities in Sioux Falls - estimated at $30 million - could be a determining factor in staying in Vermillion, which is one of the smallest cities hosting a law school in the nation.

• Along those lines, South Dakota's pass-rate for prospective lawyers passing the bar exam is at about 50 percent. Gilbertson said that's due to numerous factors, including the number of law school attendees has declined due to the cost of enrollment and some students struggling to pass the test.

• Watching the U.S. Supreme Court hear a case appealed from South Dakota has been "interesting," Gilbertson said. He was referring to a case that ruled companies only had to collect sales tax in states where they are physically located. It was argued before the highest court in April and is expected to have a decision come down before the end of June. South Dakota is hoping to repeal the 1992 decision. "How it's going to turn out? Nobody has a clue," he said, noting it's rare for a South Dakota lawsuit to make national news.

Related Topics: CRIME
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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