South Dakota House Judiciary Committee Kills Bill to Modify Presumptive Probation
Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s attempt to modify presumptive probation failed in an 8-5 vote today by the House Judiciary Committee.
The ACLU of South Dakota opposed Senate Bill 6, legislation that would have revised the conditions under which presumptive probation may be applied and required defendants to cooperate with law enforcement on drug and substance abuse cases.
The concept of putting fewer people behind bars may seem like a difficult stance to take in a state as conservative as South Dakota, but tough-on-crime policies can’t fix society’s problems – especially in regards to addiction.
“Presumptive probation works. While there are examples of people who have committed crimes who are a true threat to public safety and require incarceration, many others are nonviolent offenders whose sentences do more harm than their underlying crimes,” said Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota policy director. “By staying in their communities, people who have committed low-level, non-violent crimes can work, care for their families and get any addiction treatment they need without contributing to South Dakota’s already overcrowded prison population.”
According to the Legislative Research Council, Ravnsborg’s modifications to presumptive probation would have cost the state more than $9.4 million over 10 years in operational costs for the state’s prisons and jails. Additionally, while there is currently sufficient capacity in the men’s prison units to accommodate additional prisoners, the women’s prison units are currently at capacity. Limiting when presumptive probation could be used would result in sending women to be housed outside of South Dakota, possibly at a higher cost, or constructing a new prison facility for incarcerated women.
Presumptive probation, which was signed into law in 2013 as part of the Public Safety Improvement Act, requires that, when sentencing people for Class 5 or Class 6 felonies — classifications that include many common low-level, non-violent drug offenses — courts are to sentence the person to probation rather than penitentiary time. Presumptive probation still allows judges to sentence low-level offenders to prison time if they believe it is warranted – a necessary element to ensuring judges make decisions based on their expertise and knowledge of the facts in each individual case.
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