The quest to end over-populated prisons in South Dakota could mean a new beginning for people who struggle with drugs and alcohol. There is a push in Pierre to expand drug and DUI courts, requiring repeat offenders to make regular court appearances and go to treatment. It could mean big savings for the state.
Supporters say the program works well in Minnehaha County. Three people will soon graduate from the drug court program in Sioux Falls and their efforts add up.
"These people have together over 1,000+ days of sobriety. They've had a minimum of a solid year of sobriety, employment and paying off their fines," Judge Pat Riepel said.
Riepel is a Second Circuit Court Judge that oversees the drug court in Minnehaha County.
Governor Dennis Daugaard, Chief Justice David Gilbertson and legislators want to grow this type of program to help shrink high prison populations.
"It's absolutely marvelous that we have three branches of government that are taking an honest look at the problems and making honest efforts to change things," Riepel said.
Repeat drug offenders can use this drug court to become clean rather than go to prison. Gilbertson said nearly 50 percent of people sent to prison for drug crimes re-offend. He said using drug and alcohol courts to close this revolving door may save the state from spending more on corrections than it does on education.
Locally, the Minnehaha County program helps keep down the population at the Minnehaha County Jail.
"We have 23 participants right now and we have a 400 bed facility. It hasn't been overwhelming right now, but the potential down the road for the recidivism of these 23 people and as the program grows that can affect our numbers," Minnehaha County Chief Deputy Sheriff Michelle Boyd said.
There are two other drug courts also in Meade County and Yankton County. Officials want half dozen more of those courts in other parts of the state in the next two years. Depending on what lawmakers decide, this effort could really add up.
"But the bottom line is, you're still dealing with a human being and that human being is part of our society and we're a better society when we help people become better people," Riepel said.