Governor Daugaard touts South Dakota prison reform plan in Washington D.C.

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Washington D.C. South Dakota’s prison population is expected to grow 25-percent through the year 2022. To combat the space issue, the state introduced reform legislation two years ago – and it’s working.

Governor Dennis Daugaard was on Capitol Hill Wednesday to talk about the reform plan critics are calling a success.

Before the Public Safety Improvement Act, South Dakota had the option of building two new prison at the cost of roughly 224-million dollars or restructuring the state’s criminal justice program to help reduce the prison population.

“At the rate we were facing incarceration we were facing a new women’s prison maybe this year a new men’s prison maybe 3 or 4 years from now and hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Daugaard.

The governor said the state was putting away too many prisoners who were non-violent offenders—in fact—Daugaard said at the time over 60-percent of the inmates were really no harm to the public.

“Here we were spending the most expensive, we were approaching it with the most expensive accountability solution—incarceration and so if we could spend some of those dollars instead on treatment, then in the long run we hope to keep them out of prison and more productive in society instead,” said Daugaard.

The governor and state legislature took action and passed the public safety improvement act-- in February of 2013—this was projected to reduce prison growth in South Dakota by 716 beds… saving incarceration for career criminals—and not locking up drug offenders with minor drug possessions.
Because of this—lawmakers from other states are now looking at South Dakota’s reform system.

“It’s time for Washington to catch up and to look at states for how it can be to be smart on crime,” said Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner.

“There are some lessons that can be learned from the states and imparted to the federal system,” said Daugaard.

Some members of Congress are introducing the SAFE Justice Act next week that’s aimed at imitating the South Dakotan way.

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