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S.D. governor proposes changes in justice system

Posted: Thursday, Jan 10th, 2013

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard delivers his State of the State address to Congress in the House of Representatives Chamber at the Capitol building to begin the 2013 legislative session Tuesday in Pierre. AP PHOTO

PIERRE (AP) — South Dakota needs to cut prison costs and improve the rehabilitation of criminal offenders by treating more of those convicted of nonviolent crimes outside prison walls, Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Tuesday in his State of the State address to start the 2013 legislative session.

Daugaard urged state lawmakers to approve a set of proposals that include expansion of programs that keep drug and alcohol offenders out of prison by placing them in intensive treatment programs. Other recommendations would change sentencing laws and put more nonviolent offenders on probation.

Intensive probation and parole will do a better job of preventing convicts from committing new crimes while also saving the state about $200 million in the next decade, Daugaard said. Without the changes, South Dakota would have to build a new men’s prison and a new women’s prison in the next 10 years, he said.

“This set of proposals is not about being soft on crime. This is about being smart on crime,” the Republican governor said. “More importantly, these recommendations will hold offenders more accountable and make our state safer.”

The proposed changes in South Dakota’s criminal justice system were recommended by a study panel appointed by Daugaard, Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson and legislative leaders. After a 50-minute speech to a joint session of the South Dakota House and Senate, Daugaard joined Gilbertson and legislative leaders from both parties to introduce a 33-page bill that includes the proposed changes.

Legislative leaders from both parties praised Daugaard for pushing the criminal justice reform measure.

“This is the way to start off a legislative session, with a joint effort by all three branches of government that is totally nonpartisan,” said Senate Republican Leader Russell Olson of Wentworth.

House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton said he supports the criminal justice measure, but the Legislature will have to make sure communities get the money and staff required to supervise more people on parole or probation.

“That’s probably 25 years overdue, but better late than never,” Hunhoff said. “We’re just not improving people’s lives the way we’re doing it now.”

However, Hunhoff said he’s disappointed that the governor did not mention any effort to find extra money to help school districts recover from budget cuts made two years ago.

Daugaard also told lawmakers he will propose legislation to create a new state park at the Blood Run National Historic Landmark near Sioux Falls. Blood Run, located on the Big Sioux River, is one of the oldest places of long-term human habitation in America. It was used by thousands of Oneota Indians into the early 1700s and includes a large oak forest, rolling hills, flood plains and riverside bluffs.

The governor also said he will propose a measure aimed at helping working spouses of military personnel who are transferred to South Dakota. Those spouses who have professional licenses or certifications could more easily be approved to work in South Dakota.

However, Daugaard devoted much of his speech to the proposals to change the criminal justice system.

He said South Dakota’s inmate population grew from fewer than 550 inmates in 1977 to more than 3,600 last year, outpacing the national prison growth rate. The study panel’s report said South Dakota has 416 inmates for every 100,000 in population, far higher than the average incarceration rate of 307 per 100,000 in the six neighboring states.

Daugaard said throwing more people in prison hasn’t improved public safety. He said 17 other states that lowered their imprisonment rates in the past decade also saw their crime rates fall twice as fast as South Dakota’s crime rate.

South Dakota now has 3,600 adult inmates. Unless changes are made, the state will gain another 900 adult inmates in the next decade, the governor said.

“Prison is an expensive place to change offender behavior, and studies have shown that prison is not the most effective place to treat those with drug, alcohol and mental health issues. Sanctioning those offenders in other ways will be less expensive and more effective than doing so in prison,” he said.

Daugaard also noted that South Dakota currently has no incentive plan to attract large industrial projects to the state. A program that refunded construction taxes to large projects has expired and voters in November rejected Daugaard’s plan to use a portion of construction tax revenue to make discretionary grants to projects that wouldn’t build in South Dakota without those grants.

The governor said he wants to talk with legislators about how to handle construction taxes and economic development incentives.

For the complete article see the 01-09-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 01-09-2013 paper.

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