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Daugaard & SD Leaders Work To Improve Prisons

July 18, 2012, 7:00 PM by Brady Mallory

Daugaard & SD Leaders Work To Improve Prisons

Space is tight in South Dakota's state prisons, but there is room for improvement to our criminal justice system.

On Wednesday Governor Dennis Daugaard and other leaders announced a plan they hope will better public safety and save money.

When you take a look at the numbers, in the last 32 years the prison inmate population has gone from 600 to about 3,600 inmates. That's a 500 percent increase.

And with the average cost of an inmate up to 80 dollars a day, this costs taxpayers about $100 million every year.

One of the goals of the initiative is to reduce this spending to save you money. The other two goals are improve safety and hold criminals accountable.

Daugaard says they don't know how to do this right now, but they're hoping to find out because the of the crime in South Dakota has left South Dakotans with a big bill.

“Inflation adjusted, we're spending about four times more on corrections with just one-seventh more population in our state,” Daugaard said.

And that price tag could get higher. Daugaard says if we don't fix the system we could have more than 4,500 inmates in our prisons in the next ten years. That will cost more than $224 million to taxpayers.

"If we do nothing, we'll have to build a new women's prison in the next three or five years,” Daugaard said. “In five years after that we'll have to build a new men's prison."

Now, state leaders, prosecutors and law enforcement are teaming up to spend the next few months analyzing the state's prison population, alternative supervision strategies and ways to cut costs.

But, officials say revamping our prison system won't put high-risk offenders back on the streets.

"We need to keep those people locked up and keep South Dakota safe. While at the same time offer options to low risk offenders," Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson said.

"This is not a get out of jail free card. In this state we have two revolving doors we need to look at closing,” Chief Justice David Gilbertson said. “Those addicted to alcohol and drugs that are released only to repeat again. The second is their families.  I've been in criminal justice for 37 years and I've seen third generations come through the court system."

Daugaard says the group won't try to reduce prison rates by looking into what causes a criminal to offend.

"This isn't about sociology. This is about economics. It's about public safety.  It's about accountability." Daugaard said.

Daugaard says ultimately whatever alternatives are feasible will have to be unique to South Dakota and he says we will look at what other states have done to reduce these numbers and costs.

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