PIERRE — “Justice re-investment” was the slogan Gov. Dennis Daugaard used Tuesday, as he urged the Legislature to support reforms intended to slow South Dakota’s rate of imprisonment. Today, lawmakers will get further explanation from Chief Justice David Gilbertson, as he takes his turn making the case for reforms that have worked in other states.
With their unusual one-two message, which calls for more non-violent felons to get help for addictions while serving time in their communities under close scrutiny rather than behind bars, Daugaard and Gilbertson are making clear to the Legislature from the start what they believe needs attention foremost this year.
The Republican governor used part of his State of the State speech on the session’s opening day to talk specifically about three of the 18 recommendations that were made last year by a task force. The chief justice, who is a Democrat, will follow up on that call to action today in his State of the Judiciary message.
Gilbertson said he plans to talk about the alternative sentencing proposal and the use of drug courts, alcohol courts and veteran’s courts. Many of the changes being proposed, such as adding personnel in the courts, will occur through decisions that legislators make on state government’s fiscal 2014 budget that starts July 1 of this year.
The theory is that spending additional money now on expanded and new approaches to community sentencing will save millions of dollars in the next decade by avoiding daily costs of incarceration and the long-range expense of building another state prison.
Among the recommendations are expanding South Dakota’s two drug courts and starting two more, as well as adding court officers to provide more supervision of people serving sentences in the communities.
Another will be to try in a rural area and an urban area a version of a Hawaii program, under which offenders face the possibility every morning of a drug test that day. Daugaard said they receive “swift and certain sanctions” if they refuse to show up for testing or they test positive.
Daugaard said South Dakota has 75 percent more men in prison than does North Dakota, and 400 percent more women in prison per capita than does Minnesota. “Our approach isn’t better,” he told legislators.
Rep. Dennis Feickert said the governor is on the right track – “It needed to happen” – but hopes county governments can become more involved because they face jail over-crowding.
Feickert, D-Aberdeen, said he made that suggestion last year to governor’s aide Jim Seward, who helped lead the task force, and to the Brown County Commission, on which he previously served.
According to statistics provided to some legislators from the governor’s office, South Dakota had 9 percent drop in crime rate from 2000 to 2010 yet had an 18 percent increase in incarceration. Nationally the crime rate fell 19 percent during that period while incarceration went up 1.6 percent.
Another of the charts showed the U.S rate of incarceration in 2010 was 437 per 100,000 population while South Dakota was 416, higher than any of the neighboring states.
“I thought he (the governor) put it in perspective,” said Rep. Tona Rozum, R-Mitchell.
Adapting programs that have been proven elsewhere is a good step, according to Rep. Melissa Magstadt, R-Watertown. “What a privilege to use that for problems in your own state,” she said.
Adding the positions and salaries will be primarily the responsibility of the 18 legislators on the House and Senate appropriations committees. The plan has support already from the House panel’s chairman, Rep. Fred Romkema, R-Spearfish.
“I’d be pleased if it was the dominant issue of the session,” Romkema said.
Daugaard said the reforms could be “a win-win-win” if they save money, hold offenders more accountable and make South Dakota safer. He said $200 million of increased costs could be avoided in the next 10 years through the plan.