Pew Applauds South Dakota Leaders for Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

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Today, Governor Dennis Daugaard signed into law comprehensive criminal justice legislation that will improve public safety and save taxpayers over $200 million.

Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trust's public safety performance project, released the following statement regarding the Public Safety Improvement Act:

“This broad set of reforms reflects a bipartisan consensus that South Dakota can get a much better public safety return on its corrections dollars. Policymakers took a hard look at the data and adopted policies that research shows actually work to reduce recidivism.

“Enacting a reform package of this size and significance takes real leadership, and that's exactly what South Dakota got from Governor Daugaard, legislative leaders, Chief Justice David Gilbertson and members of the Criminal Justice Initiative.”

Without reforms, projections indicated that South Dakota's prison population would grow by 25 percent in the next 10 years, requiring the state to build two new correctional facilities at a cost to taxpayers of $224 million for construction and operating expenses.

The reform package is expected to avert the need to construct both prisons through sentencing alternatives and other effective crime prevention strategies. The new law will:

Focus prison space on violent and career criminals by revising sentences for several nonviolent offenses to target more serious offenses with stronger punishments.

Authorize reinvestment of some of the savings generated by averting prison growth into recidivism reduction strategies that: require the use of proven practices and programs; improve substance abuse and mental health interventions; expand drug courts; and improve collection of restitution.

Ensure effective implementation and ongoing impact of the reforms by creating an oversight council and requiring performance measurement, training, and fiscal impact statements.

The new law places South Dakota in the company of more than a dozen states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas, that are implementing “justice reinvestment” strategies designed to protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs. These reforms have contributed to declines in the national prison population for two consecutive years, after nearly 40 years of uninterrupted growth.

At the request of state leaders, Pew's public safety performance project provided technical assistance to the bipartisan, interbranch Criminal Justice Initiative Work Group and state leaders throughout the reform process. South Dakota is now eligible to receive additional assistance with implementation of the reforms through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative of the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is a nonprofit organization that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. 

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