Governor Dennis Daugaard's outlined portions of his Criminal Justice Reform plan during his State of the State address Tuesday.
The plan includes alternative drug courts, the HOPE program to help prevent repeat offenses and increased supervision of non-violent offenders within the community instead of inside prison walls.
The Governor's proposal has been a long time in the making. It began with a comprehensive Pew Research Study that revealed many key issues and includes input from the criminal justice panel composed of leaders from every level of South Dakota's Justice System.
The results of the study proved that changes need to be made.
"Thirty-five years ago, we had fewer than 550 inmates in our prisons. Today we have six times that many. In fact, South Dakota has a higher imprisonment rate than any other state in our region," said Governor Daugaard during his address.
It's why law enforcement professionals across the state agree something needs to change—including Minnehaha County Jail warden Darin Young who also has more than 20 years experience at the South Dakota State Penitentiary.
"In my time down here at the Minnehaha County Jail, I've seen the numbers grow. In my time at the penitentiary, I've seen the numbers grow," said Warden Young.
While everyone agrees something needs to be done, there are varied viewpoints on just how far the changes should go.
"The ACLU agrees with a lot of some of the bill, there's some really good portions of it, but our position is that is doesn't go far enough…the governor's bill on criminal justice reform is a great first step, but South Dakota has a long way to go to actually make real criminal justice reforms like other states have," said Tiffany Campbell, Advocacy Director for the ACLU of South Dakota.
"The path we are on will cost us an additional $224 million over the next decade," said Governor Daugaard.
Campbell says the ACLU believes the Governor's proposed bill will not prevent those costs.
"In other states they've brought bills such as the one the governor's proposing and they never saw the cost savings that they projected because they didn't go quite far enough," said Campbell.
She also believes the Governor's criminal justice panel is taking a moderate stance, especially when it comes to non-violent drug offences.
"You can see that they took the easy way out, they didn't go with some of the more progressive reforms that could be made," said Campbell.
But Warden Young says the criminal justice panel continues to work to find a better solution for drug offenders.
"We need to do more than just a band-aid fix; we need to look at the problem and we need to fix it for the long term. That's where they will see the benefits, their families will see the benefits and the county tax payers will see the benefits," said Warden Young.
The Governor and other lawmakers have composed a 33-page bill on criminal justice reform. The ACLU hopes some amendments will be made to the bill, but in either case, many hope the State Legislature will take an aggressive approach to passing some kind of legislation this session.
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