PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A state task force wants illegal ingestion of controlled substances to remain a felony crime in South Dakota.
But the panel recommended other improvements Friday for the 2020 Legislature to consider for convicted drug offenders.
One is broader use of diversion programs that let people caught with illegal drugs in their bodies avoid going to state prisons in certain circumstances. Others include developing ways to get some prison inmates out sooner and having the Legislature pay for more parole and court-services officers.
State lawmakers ordered the task force to look at alternatives to imprisonment, different funding methods and actual financial costs. The state prisons for men and for women are full.
South Dakota is the only state where illegal ingestion is a felony.
The study’s chairman, Representative Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, said the state Unified Judicial System needs more new court-services officers than the seven currently in its budget request, and more parole officers should be sought for the state Department of Corrections.
Corrections Secretary Mike Leidholt said he’s asked for additional parole officers but didn’t want to publicly state the number, because the state Bureau of Finance and Management is still reviewing his department’s budget proposal. “We need more,” Leidholt said.
Governor Kristi Noem will deliver her budget recommendations December 3 to a joint gathering of House and Senate members. The 2020 legislative session opens January 14. Lawmakers set state government’s budget each year.
Representative Linda Duba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, and Representative Dayle Hammock, a Spearfish Republican, found unanimous support Friday for the concept of improving processes and procedures for earlier release of inmates who are in prison for ingestion.
Leidholt, who was Hughes County sheriff before accepting the corrections appointment in Noem’s cabinet, said he wasn’t clear what they had in mind. He said state laws already provide authority so inmates who show success don’t have to serve their full sentences.
As an example, Leidholt said the department spends about $40,000 a year on driver licenses to help inmates transition back into society.
Social Services Secretary Laurie Gill presented information that adding 22 beds for in-patient treatment would cost her department about $1.7 million and serve about 260 people, based on 2019 data.
Haugaard, a lawyer who is House speaker, said it was still too early to judge the effectiveness of a reform package, known as Senate Bill 70, that the Legislature approved in 2013. That’s because it wasn’t adequately funded, such as for supervision, he said.
Savings, such as from early parole, would eventually be seen under the proposals offered Friday, Haugaard said. “It’s an ongoing process. We’re certainly not done with this issue,” he said.
The panel voted 8-3 against a proposal from Senator Craig Kennedy, a Yankton Democrat, to reduce ingestion to a misdemeanor from a felony. He also wanted to double the probation period for misdemeanor ingestion to two years.
“We are an outlier,” Kennedy said.