Criminal Justice Reform Update from Governor Daugaard
Governor Dennis Daugaard in his weekly column gives an update on legislation that was passed in 2013 that enacted numerous criminal justice reforms in South Dakota. The premise was to put more focus on rehabilitating people who want to atone for their mistakes and not have so many people incarcerated in the state.
Nearly two years ago, I became aware of a problem with our state’s criminal justice system. I learned South Dakota’s imprisonment rate was higher than any of its six neighboring states. Per capita, we were locking up 75 percent more men than North Dakota and four times as many women as Minnesota. Maintaining the status quo would mean building a new women’s prison and a new men’s prison within the next 10 years.
I also learned our high imprisonment rate probably wasn’t making our public any safer. I saw that 17 states had lowered their imprisonment rate while simultaneously lowering their crime rate and that the crime rates in those states had fallen twice as fast as the crime rate in South Dakota.
To address the problem, the Chief Justice, legislative leadership and I formed a work group. We charged the work group with three goals: improve public safety, hold offenders more accountable and reduce corrections spending. Last legislative session, the Legislature passed and I signed the work group’s proposal into law.
To focus prison space on violent and career criminals, the reforms restructured our sentencing framework for non-violent offenders and included new or improved probation accountability programs including Drug and Alcohol Courts. We also made the largest investment in the history of our state into behavioral health for offenders with addictions and mental health needs.
It’s only been 10 months, but the statutorily created Oversight Council is receiving very positive reports on the implementation so far. Let me give you an example.
Holding offenders more accountable requires a focus on those most likely to reoffend. One of the policies that took effect last July was earned discharge credits. This policy allows compliant parolees to reduce the duration of their parole by 30 days each time they complete 30 days of perfect compliance. The program has been shown through empirical evidence to reduce recidivism, lower parole violations, reduce caseloads and allow parole officers to focus on more high risk offenders.
From July through November, over 91 percent of eligible parolees have been compliant, following all the rules and paying their fines and restitution. Over 407,000 days of parole credit have already been earned. That is over 1,115 cumulative years and it equates to about 5 fewer parolees supervised by each parole officer.
I know it’s still too early to declare victory. Experts tell us it will take two or three years to complete implementation and three to five years to see all the results of our combined efforts. But based on the early data we’ve received, I’m confident the new policies will save our state tens of millions of dollars, hold offenders more accountable and make our state a safer place to live.