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Justice System Reform Moves Forward

August 22, 2013, 10:00 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Justice System Reform Moves Forward

A state goal to get non-violent criminals help rather than locking them up is moving forward.

It's been less than two months since changes in the judicial system became law. Leaders of the justice system are happy with progress in that short time.

"If we have the money and the community support is there, we could literally move forward very rapidly into a lot of cities," South Dakota Chief Justice David Gilbertson said.

Gilbertson expects more drug and alcohol courts in South Dakota this year, which will get offenders help rather than prison time. One or the other already exists in a handful of cities.

The State will host a training session for the program this fall, but it takes a couple years to set up a drug or alcohol court and it takes money. There are other challenges too.

One of those is how to implement the system in rural parts of the state that don't have all the resources needed for drug or alcohol courts.

"You have to have treatment providers available and most of our rural communities don't have that available," Circuit Judge Scott Myren said.

Myren will be running a pilot project in Selby that could serve as a remedy. It's based on a Hawaii program and will require frequent drug tests for offenders with an underlying drug issue. Depending on participants' success, a judge would decide how to proceed.

That's just one idea in the works. Urban or rural, Gilbertson is happy with the way the State is meeting challenges up to this point.

"It's too soon to declare victory but I'm pleased the law got implemented. We are moving forward," Gilbertson said.

Gilberton's goal is to have a drug and alcohol court set up in every South Dakota city big enough to provide the needed services. Realistically, he says, that could take five to ten years.

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