According to South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard’s office, the South Dakota prison population grew from 600 in 1980 to 3,600 last year, a growth of 500 percent. At that rate, according to Daugaard, by 2022 the state will incarcerate 4,500 at a cost of $224million.
In July of last year, Daugaard put together a bi-partisan work group to investigate ways that the state could improve its criminal justice system and reduce costs without compromising public safety.
Realizing that approximately 80 percent of South Dakota’s prisoners were non-violent offenders, and of that number the majority were convicted on drug or alcohol charges, the work group recommended that instead of building two new prisons, tax payer dollars would be better spent on treatment programs for alcohol and substance abusers. “Intensive supervision” will be put in place for those individuals who are not sent to prison, as well as those who are paroled. Drug and alcohol courts are expected to help keep the prison population down, while plugging in defendants to treatment programs. Veterans and tribal members will also be referred to special courts designed to help divert members of both groups from prison.
SB70, the proposed bill for implementing the changes to the state’s criminal justice system is expected to be heard by the state’s senate later this month. The cost of the proposed reform would be approximately $8 million, over the next 3 – 5 years. It was originally expected to cost $6 million. Supporters of the bill say that the cost is worth it and is expected to save millions of dollars in the future.
Update: Calling it " agreat day for South Dakota," Governor Dennis Daugaard signed SB70 into law on February 6.