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On February 6, Governor Dennis Daugaard signed into law comprehensive criminal justice legislation aimed at improving public safety and cutting costs to taxpayers. An overwhelming majority of legislators in both chambers of the South Dakota Legislature voted to support the Public Safety Improvement Act to contain corrections spending by focusing prison space on violent and career criminals and strengthening less costly, more effective alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders.

 

Governor Daugaard signs the Public Safety Improvement Act on February 6, 2013.

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.

To address this challenge, South Dakota state leaders created the bipartisan, interbranch Criminal Justice Initiative Work Group, which conducted an in-depth analysis of the state's sentencing and corrections data and developed research-driven policy recommendations that formed the basis for the legislation.

The reform package is expected to avert the need to construct both prisons through evidence-based 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, fiscal impact statements, and reinvestment mechanisms.

The legislation received the endorsement of the state associations of police chiefs, state's attorneys, sheriffs, and county commissioners. Attorney General Marty Jackley, the State Bar of South Dakota, the Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, the Council of Substance Abuse Directors, and the Council of Mental Health Centers also supported the bill.

The Public Safety Improvement Act was passed by the Senate by a vote of 31-2. It passed the House by a vote of 63-7.

At the request of state leaders, Pew's public safety performance project provided technical assistance to the Work Group and state leaders throughout the reform process.