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OUR VIEW: Criminal justice reforms caused unintentional consequences for local law enforcement

Has South Dakota fixed its high prison population problem, or just kicked the can down the road? Recently, Gov. Dennis Daugaard touted the successes of the state's 2013 Public Safety Improvement Act, which focuses on rehabilitating nonviolent off...

The Davison County Public Safety Center serves as the home for county lockup. (Matt Gade/Republic)
The Davison County Public Safety Center serves as the home for county lockup. (Matt Gade/Republic)

Has South Dakota fixed its high prison population problem, or just kicked the can down the road?

Recently, Gov. Dennis Daugaard touted the successes of the state's 2013 Public Safety Improvement Act, which focuses on rehabilitating nonviolent offenders by keeping them in the community rather than sending them to an overcrowded prison.

While South Dakota's Public Safety Improvement Act has saved the state a reported $30 million since fiscal year 2014 by alleviating state prison costs, the reforms have put a significant workload and financial burden on local law enforcement agencies.

County sheriff's offices and city police departments seemingly are overworked dealing with and arresting repeat drug-use offenders who are flooding local jails.

We know that county jails have never been fuller, and anecdotal evidence from local police officers and sheriff's deputies say it's mostly because of people violating probation or their parole over and over. Yet, rather than getting sent to the state penitentiary, they're forced to go to the county jail.

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That certainly is impacting the finances at the Davison County Jail, which saw its overtime costs go about $75,000 over budget in 2016. Other increased jail expenses were due to be about $37,000 overrun on inmate medicine costs and $37,000 over budget for prisoner food.

We know Minnehaha and Yankton counties also have jails that are significantly overcrowded, and the Mitchell Police Division wants to add more officers to staff due to high call volumes.

So the question remains: Is South Dakota actually safer and saving money due to the Public Safety Improvement Act, or was the problem just shifted elsewhere?

We are pleased there are drug offenders being rehabilitated through highly intensive drug courts in some areas. The program has been successful for a large majority of those who chose to sign up for it. But the percentage of users who enter drug court is a tiny fraction compared to the number of addicts in South Dakota.

It seems the people who are released from prison as nonviolent drug offenders are re-entering their community and, rather than getting rehabilitated, violate parole or probation when they go back into the same environment that got them in trouble originally.

Crime in South Dakota has never been higher. Stats show that's true.

There were 71,014 offenses in South Dakota during 2015, according to the Attorney General's Office. That year, drug offenses also increased 22.3 percent compared to 2014.

We know there are success stories of people being rehabilitated, and we're pleased the state is saving dollars to keep people out of the penitentiary. Obviously, change needed to occur in 2013 when South Dakota's prison population was bursting at the seams.

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Though, the repercussions on local law enforcement agencies and county jails have been too much. The Public Safety Improvement Act absolutely alleviated one problem, but unintentionally caused another.

Related Topics: CRIME
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