Gov. Dennis Daugaard was joined today by Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson and leaders of the South Dakota Legislature in announcing an effort to improve public safety and control corrections costs by reforming the state's criminal justice system.
The Governor, Chief Justice, Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson (R-Madison) and House Majority Leader David Lust (R-Rapid City) have formed a bipartisan, inter-branch work group to study the sentencing and corrections systems and recommend policies to curb unsustainable growth and escalating costs of the prison population.
"We are committed to making South Dakota communities safer and providing taxpayers with a better public safety return on their corrections dollars through a more effective approach to sentencing and corrections," Gov. Daugaard said. "Every dollar we spend on new prisons is a dollar that can't be used for schools, roads, job creation, or taxpayer relief -- let alone proven, cost-effective crime-prevention strategies."
While their crime rates are similar, South Dakota's incarceration rate is higher than that of neighboring states and is about double the rates of North Dakota and Minnesota.
The South Dakota prison population has grown by more than 500 percent since 1980, from about 600 inmates then to more than 3,600 today. If the state does not contain that growth, it is estimated that the prison population will exceed 4,500 inmates by 2022, at a cost of more than $224 million to taxpayers.
With corrections costs already consuming more than $100 million and requiring one in every 15 general-fund dollars, prison spending is a significant burden on state taxpayers. And while South Dakota enjoys a relatively low crime rate, recidivism rates remain stubbornly high and incarceration is increasingly used for non-violent offenders.
"We know so much more today about offender behavior and reducing recidivism than we did when I first became a judge more than 25 years ago," said Chief Justice Gilbertson. "Research and experience now tell us that holding non-violent offenders accountable with swift and certain, yet proportional, punishments in the community is every bit as effective as an expensive prison cell."
The South Dakota work group will be assisted by the Pew Center on the States, and consists of representatives from all three branches of state government, local government, and other criminal justice stakeholder groups. They will spend the next several months analyzing the state's prison population, considering evidence-based community supervision strategies, consulting criminal justice stakeholders, and developing recommendations to improve public safety and contain corrections costs.
"States across the country are realizing that they don't have to simply accept higher and higher prison costs year after year," said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project. "With the launch of this effort, South Dakota has a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of research-based strategies for non-violent offenders that will protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs."