South Dakota Governor Ready to Bring About Criminal Justice Reform
Date:  07-27-2012

Study ordered to find solutions to problems in State's criminal justice system
Last week South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard convened a bi-partisan working group, the goal of which is to study the state’s criminal justice system and make recommendations to make it more efficient, less costly, and better able to reduce recidivism.

Along with Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson, Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson (R-Madison) and House Majority Leader David Lust (R-Rapid City), Daugaard hopes to find a way to stop the ever-increasing amount of inmates in state prisons. The number of inmates has jumped over 500 percent in the past 32 years. The rising number of prisoners means correctional costs have sky-rocketed. Daugaard is concerned that if a solution to reduce SD’s prison population is not found, the state can expect to house 4,500 prisoners by 2022, with an expected price tag of $224 million. In a press release issued by the governor’s office, Daugaard stated that correction costs already exceed $100 million.

The study will look into ways to reduce the state’s recidivism rate, as well as to find alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. Treatment programs, rather than prison sentences, can substantially reduce the state’s prison population and it is expected that the group will look into creating courts that deal more effectively with alcohol and substance abuse. A priority of the group is to enhance public safety.

Chief Justice Gilbertson is quoted in the press release as stating, “We know so much more today about offender behavior and reducing recidivism than we did when I first became a judge more than 25 years ago. Research and experience now tell us that holding non-violent offenders accountable with swift and certain, yet proportional, punishments in the community is every bit as effective as an expensive prison cell.”

The Pew Center on the States will aid the South Dakota group, which includes members from the executive, judicial and legislative branches of the SD government, as well as others with a keen interest in reform. The group will report their findings and recommendations to legislators for consideration in 2013.