South Dakota has taken steps to reform its criminal justice system for adults through legislative action in 2013, then adding juvenile justice reform in 2015. One group feels more reforms can further decrease pressure on the state’s corrections structure.

As part of a campaign to rehabilitate those who commit crimes, the ACLU of South Dakota wants to talk about different methods of repairing lives. Public Policy Director Libby Skarin believes pre-arrest diversion can funnel people toward treatment instead of a trip to jail.

“When it’s clear that there is a mental illness in play rather than arresting them and charging them with a crime, (we should be) diverting them out to get them the help they need so they are never entering the system. Whereas with the drug courts, these are people who have been charged with a crime and pleaded guilty to a crime. Instead of going to prison, they are getting treatment but they still will have a criminal record.”

Generally, Skarin is a proponent of reducing recidivism which gets tougher as a person stays in jail for a significant amount of time.

“The goal is to get people on the right path and reintegrate them back into society. We know that incarcerating someone for any period of time makes it a lot harder for a person to become a productive member of the community.”

Minnehaha County Officials have recently proposed a triage center that would serve in that capacity. Skarin believes if done right it could be a model for the rest of the state.

The ACLU of South Dakota’s campaign, “People Not Prisons” coincides with the statewide election which takes place on November 6.


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