A few days ago, the SD Criminal Justice Initiative, a work group composed of members of all three branches of state government, released its final report and policy recommendations. The panel proposed a number of broad changes to SD’s criminal justice system, particularly with regard to drug laws. The report shows us to have one of the highest incarceration rates in the region, even though nonviolent offenders – many of them drug offenders – made up 81 percent of new inmates in 2012 and 61 percent of inmates overall.
And yet all those beds filled have failed to reduce crime rates as effectively as 17 other states that reduced both prison populations and crime. Meanwhile, we’re looking to have to build two new prisons in the next 10 years. The Argus Leader reports:
The ideas in the report have yet to be written into proposed legislation, but the overarching theme of the report is a move away from prison terms and toward probation, community supervision and rehabilitation for nonviolent offenders.
South Dakota’s panel recommends the expanded use of drug courts, a presumption of probation for nonviolent felons and the creation of an alternative monitoring program for methamphetamine users that would mirror the 24/7 program’s consistent testing and short jail stays.
[Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike] Milstead also favors offenders earning time off probation or parole based on treatment completion and good behavior. Reforming low-risk offenders is key to lowering crime rates, he said… If inmates take all the classes and get all the training and treatment that are recommended for them without racking up major disciplinary infractions on the inside, they automatically are released without a parole board hearing.
“The recidivism is what really gets us,” he said. “The revolving door is where the cost comes in.”
So as Governor Daugaard warns again of conservative budgets of (even as SD’s wealth, and therefore state income, has grown this year), their recommendations – while they still enshrine some of the country’s harsher drug laws and fail to mention rotting, expensive branches like capital punishment that are ripe for pruning – should provide a solid baseline for policy changes and funding cuts. (The increased cost to taxpayers of those prison construction projects I mentioned above is estimated to be $224 million by 2022.)
Rather than underfunding our schools (again), why don’t we give up on the “tough on crime” rhetoric and realize that we’re really just being tough on taxpayers, without providing effective public safety for their investment?