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IN OTHER WORDS: Sending low-risk offenders to prison is not the best use of state funds

This submission is in response to a column from the Daily Republic Editorial Board published on Feb. 22. Implementation of the Public Safety Improvement Act (PSIA) has occurred concurrent with a significant increase of meth and meth's impact on t...

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This submission is in response to a column from the Daily Republic Editorial Board published on Feb. 22.

Implementation of the Public Safety Improvement Act (PSIA) has occurred concurrent with a significant increase of meth and meth's impact on the criminal justice system. The PSIA didn't cause this meth increase. According to federal drug interdiction officials, the meth epidemic is impacting all Midwestern states, regardless of whether they have implemented criminal justice reform or not.

The impact of increased meth use and meth crimes has negatively impacted all levels of the criminal justice system, and as a result the prison population is higher than was projected when PSIA was passed. However, the prison population is still lower than it would have been without the reforms.

The number of nonviolent offenders in prison is increasing (52 percent of male inmates and 84 percent of female inmates) and the top three offenses of new commitments to prison are drug offenses (possession of a controlled substance, unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance, and distribution of a controlled substance). As a result, the state corrections system is dealing with 300 more inmates than planned for.

Meanwhile, statewide jail days for felony sentencing actually decreased from 35,340 in Fiscal Year 2015 to 29,990 in Fiscal Year 2016.

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The Department of Corrections pays $70 per day when we place a parolee in county jail. The jail days used by parole in Davison County actually went down between Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016, from 292 days to 227 days. Jail days for parolees from Davison County are going up in Fiscal Year 2017 and we expect that the DOC will pay about $30,000 to Davison County for parolee jailings in Fiscal Year 2017.

Through the Reinvestment Fund created in PSIA, a total of $1 million was shared with counties whose probation counts increased greater than their respective historical averages. Davison County did not receive any funds as the county's probation count only increased by three individuals from June 30, 2013, to June 30, 2016.

Most parolees don't have any violations of their parole conditions in the community. In Fiscal Year 2016, 60 percent of the individuals on parole supervision didn't have any infractions. Twenty-five percent of those on parole were sanctioned in the community and 15 percent of those on parole were returned to prison for parole revocation. Contrary to what the Feb. 22 editorial implied, most parolees follow the law and their supervision conditions.

Sending low-risk offenders to prison for drug possession is not the best use of state tax dollars. Re-entry is very difficult and outpatient treatment is more effective. The state needs to stop the influx of meth into the state, educate young people about the dangers of meth, and treat those who are addicted, to reduce the strain meth causes on state and local resources. These individuals did not grow up in a community called DOC, most grew up in the Mitchell area and the solution will need to include community strategies.

The 2016 Annual Report on the Public Safety Improvement Act was recently released at is posted online at www.psia.sd.gov - I'd encourage you to read it.

- Denny Kaemingk is the cabinet secretary, South Dakota Department of Corrections

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