Minnehaha County already planning for new prisons

Minnehaha County is already planning to build more prisons, according to the Argus Leader today:

As the Minnehaha County regional jail approaches capacity and the community corrections center nears obsolescence, U.S. Department of Justice consultants gave county officials guidelines to address those needs.

Plan before building is the core of their advice.

At a town hall meeting Wednesday in the county commission chambers, Dennis Liebert of Boulder, Colo., told members of the commission, sheriff’s department, U.S. Marshal Service and others to carefully identify both the needs for jail facilities and the way the community wants the justice system to operate.

“Determine your operational philosophy and design buildings around that,” he said…

[Consultant April Pottoroff] said the fact that so many in the Minnehaha County justice system, including judges, prosecutors, defenders and law enforcement officials, are united in a desire to put in place alternatives to incarceration is a great advantage in shaping an operational philosophy.

“It’s refreshing. Everybody has the same message,” she said. “You’re way down the road.”

Sheriff Mike Milstead said the county is on track to book 20,000 people into the jail this year, and a greater reliance on alternatives to incarceration such as electronic monitoring, work release and community service can relieve overcrowding in the high-priced maximum security jail cells.

The Old Minnehaha County Jail. Photo by Flickr user auvet.

South Dakota is suffering from an over-incarceration crisis as it is, with the highest incarceration rates in the region. We should be taking the recommendations of the South Dakota Criminal Justice Initiative to rehabilitate non-violent offenders and avoid more than $200 million in increased costs over the next decade.

As we discussed last week, the sharp increases in SD’s incarceration rates have been fueled by a 70 percent increase in the number of offenders admitted for drug offenses: 81 percent of admissions to prison in 2012 were for non-violent, primarily drug- and alcohol-related crimes.

Building more correctional facilities is not the answer. But somehow, these figures remained absent from the Argus Leader’s report. And there are unfortunate signs that Governor Daugaard and the State of SD are not terribly interested in solving SD’s over-incarceration crisis.

Perhaps they, along with Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead, should head over to the Sioux Falls Public Library at 6:00 pm tonight to see South Dakota Families First and the South Dakota ACLU‘s screening of The House I Live In, which details just how destructive the War on Drugs really is. (And keep your eyes open for another Sioux Falls screening early in 2013, which will be co-sponsored by the SDPJC.) Then maybe instead of planning for new prisons, we’d be developing policies to keep non-violent offenders (particularly drug offenders) out of prison in the first place.

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About sdpeacejustice

The SD Peace & Justice Center connects a grassroots network of South Dakotans working for social justice and against violence and oppression.
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