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Gov. Signs Criminal Justice Reform

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Wednesday marks a huge change in the South Dakota Criminal Justice System.
South Dakota’s Governor, Dennis Daugaard, signed senate bill 70, also known as the South Dakota Public Safety Improvement Act, into law.

As Governor Daugaard sat down in front of dozens of people to sign the bill into law, he told them that it was a good day for the state of South Dakota. And legislators behind him agreed some even teared up knowing this bill could change some lives.

“It will take toward a trajectory of reducing incarceration rates and instead of treating offenders, holding them accountable, but making it less likely they will re-offend in the future,” said Governor Dennis Daugaard.  

As Governor Daugaard stepped out into the rotunda at the Capitol Wednesday afternoon, his excitement for the South Dakota Public Safety Improvement Act was clear.

But this new law means serious changes to South Dakota’s Criminal Justice System.

“It recognizes that we do need prisons for violent offenders, for career and chronic offenders, but it shouldn’t be a place for non-violent offenders,” said Daugaard.

So with this new reform, those who may be doing time for drug and alcohol offenses may have a chance to get out and be on parole, and apart of a rehab program. This will reduce the incarceration rate; hold off building new prisons, and save the state millions.

But is also more than that, it is about giving people a second chance at life.

“It gets those individuals a vehicle, or a tool if they want to better themselves they have that opportunity,” said South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackely.

Jackely said drug and alcohol violations will still be considered serious felonies, what will change, is the sentencing aspect.

 “We can do a better job and a more effective job of treatment through our drug courts and DUI courts,” Jackely said.

And lawmakers are confident this will work because some courts have already been doing this over the past few years.

“Some courts have done this for the past five years. 80 percent of them that enter that program are successfully remaining in the program, or they have successfully completed it,” said Chief Justice David Gilbertson, South Dakota Supreme Court.

Daugaard said by having offenders in rehab programs, instead of being incarcerated, will make them less of a threat to the public because they may learn how to deal with their addictions and not drag others into it.
He also said he is aware of those who may violate their parole and get put back in prison, but he said he believes more people will show it was a good thing these changes were made.
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