With the stroke of his pen, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard signs into law a sweeping reform of the state's criminal justice system.
If reform didn't happen, South Dakota was looking at the possibility of having to build two new prisons to keep up with the state's rate of arrest and criminal conviction. With this massive change in state policy, those plans for new prisons are now on the back burner.
Governor Daugaard signed the reform measure into law in the rotunda of the state capitol in Pierre, surrounded by lawmakers and members of law enforcement. But the governor made certain to let everyone know....reform does not mean South Dakota is soft on crime. "We do need prisons...we need prisons for violent offenders ...for career and chronic offenders but it should not be ...prison shouldn't; be a place for non-violent offenders that we're not afraid of...we're just angry at."
The lynch pin of this reform measure is how the state will deal with non-violent offenders going forward...and those offenders fall primarily into the category of people arrested on drug and alcohol charges. We asked Attorney General Marty Jackley...what system will be set up for those offenders. "Ways such as improving drug courts, DUI courts, further use of the 24-7 program."
For non-violent offenders, the path will take them through probation, treatment and then supervision. They will not serve prison time unless there is a special circumstance. Governor Daugaard says because these offenders aren't going to prison doesn't mean they are getting off the hook. "Holding them accountable.....holding them accountable.....but in ways that will make it less likely they'll re-offend in the future and keep our public more safe."
This reform plan has the backing of South Dakota Supreme Court Justice David Gilbertson, who offered some food for thought.....saying almost all drug offenders will one day be released back into society. "Do you want them released from prison untreated and still addicts?"
This reform package was the result of a working group that studied this issue and then presented their findings to Governor Daugaard. The measure was introduced at the legislature last month and fully approved by lawmakers last week.