The South Dakota Senate State Affairs committee has unanimously endorsed a bill that would reform the state's criminal justice system.
Senate Bill 70 is a result of Governor Dennis Daugaard's Criminal Justice Initiative created to find a solution to the state's growing prison population. The committee's vote brings the state one step closer to implementing some of those reforms.
The bill, known as the Public Safety Improvement Act, covers a lot of ground with 83 sections of reforms to every level of the state's criminal justice system.
A large part of the bill addresses drug and alcohol offenders, the types of cases law enforcement officers see most often, no matter how big or small the county.
"I think it can be a problem anywhere," said Rita Schrestha, a resident of Monroe, SD—population 160.
More populated counties like Minnehaha and Pennington see higher inmate numbers, but the many small towns and counties in South Dakota also contribute to the prison population.
"Do we send people to the penitentiary, absolutely," said Turner County Sheriff Byron Nogelmeier.
Smaller counties like Turner occasionally see violent offenses, but they primarily deal with drug and alcohol violations.
"We do have violent offenders that we have dealt with, but for the most part, a lot of them are non-violent offenders you know the DUI's…the drug users," said Sheriff Nogelmeier.
However, treatment for those common arrests can't be found in Turner County.
"We don't have a Detox center here; if somebody is drunk and laying in the streets, we would end up going to Minnehaha County Detox with that person," said Sheriff Nogelmeier.
In fact, Turner County has to outsource when it comes to any arrest. Like many small counties, Turner had a fully functioning jail back in the 1980s, but it became more effective to contract out to other prisons.
Today Turner County has two holding cells that can only be used during court cases; the county can not afford to pay for 24-hour staff.
If the reform bill passes, it would help decrease jail and prison time for non-violent offenders by providing more treatment and monitoring programs like Turner County's 24/7 program.
"You either come in twice a day and blow into a PBT or you wear a monitor around your ankle which detects alcohol," said Sheriff Nogelmeier.
Law enforcement officers and members of the community we spoke with are excited to see the state moving toward programs with long-term benefits for drug and alcohol offenders.
"I don't think they should be sending them off to prison right away, I think they should be trying to get them help and trying to get them clean and following up with that," said Shrestha.
Lincoln County Sheriff Dennis Johnson said the state is including provision to help counties pay for the potential new services if the bill is passed. A critical point for smaller counties who have to contract services out.
Last year, Lincoln County paid more than half a million dollars to the Minnehaha County Jail.
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