April 2, 2019

The South Dakota Attorney General’s Office today released its 2018 Crime in South Dakota report. While criminal statistics are important to identify trends in criminal activity and aid in crime prevention and enforcement efforts, the ACLU of South Dakota says the stats also highlight the need for criminal justice reform in South Dakota – particularly when it comes to drug-related offenses.

Over the past six years, arrests for drug offenses have risen 49.37 percent, according to the report. But it’s also important to note that an increase in drug arrests does not mean there’s been an increase in drug use in South Dakota. Drug use rates in South Dakota have stayed relatively stable over time, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

“Though drug use is undoubtedly a serious issue, we can’t incarcerate our way out of addiction,” said Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota policy director.  “Assigning years in prison to those who have a drug present in their system is disproportionate and causes more harm than good to individuals struggling with addiction, their families and their communities.”

Instead of using an enormous amount of taxpayer funds to prosecute and incarcerate drug users, the ACLU of South Dakota is advocating for a smarter approach and supports the use of treatment and diversion whenever possible. Initiatives like drug courts have been successful in keeping offenders in communities while opening up avenues for them to get the treatment they need. Supporting and expanding alternatives to incarceration can solve the underlying causes of many addiction-related crimes and save taxpayer dollars.

Additionally, reclassifying ingestion as a misdemeanor and investing the resulting savings of state funds in diversion and treatment programs designed to combat addiction would go a long way in helping to solve the underlying problems leading to drug abuse.

The ACLU of South Dakota supports the upcoming legislative study to look at offenses regarding controlled substances, alternatives to prison for anyone convicted of controlled substance abuse, and the financial impact those convictions have on the state, counties, law enforcement and substance abuse treatment centers.

“Reclassifying ingestion as a misdemeanor and investing the resulting savings of state funds in diversion and treatment programs designed to combat addiction would go a long way in helping to solve the underlying problems leading to drug abuse,” Skarin said.

South Dakota is the only state that imposes a felony for ingestion of a controlled substance. Reducing the penalty for ingestion of a controlled substance from a felony to a misdemeanor would save the state an estimated $50 million dollars in department of corrections expenses over 10 years, according to a Legislative Research Council’s prison and jail cost estimate in 2018.

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