Alternatives to prison, jail must be sought
June 10, 2011 - Sioux Falls Argus Leader, by Marty Gallanter
Some heralded Governor Daugaard’s ten percent across the board budget cut as a bold move demanding an equal sacrifice from all areas of state government. It may have been bold, but it was hardly innovative and did almost nothing to answer
Maybe it’s time to start examining what works and what doesn’t in South Dakota and to begin adjusting budgets based on a program’s payoff to the taxpayers. A great place to start would be the so-called correctional system.
At the state level, taxpayers spend almost $100 million to maintain the state prison system. Add in what’s spent at the county level, in support of the criminal courts and for public defenders and the dollar figure becomes even more staggering.
All of this would be fine if the taxpayers were getting value for their dollars but that doesn’t seem to be the case. A study by the
“The stubborn recidivism rates are a sign that the programs and policies designed to deter re-offenders are falling short. Lawmakers should consider treatment-based alternatives for nonviolent offenders,” said Adam Gelb of the Center’s Public Safety Performance Project, according to the AP article.
Talk to almost anyone who works in South Dakota’s Correctional System and they will tell you usually off the record that a huge portion, maybe even a majority, of offenders are nonviolent and self-destructive rather than a danger to society. I recently heard one judge threaten to send a repeat drug user to the state penitentiary not for the protection of the public but for the protection of the offender.
As a society shouldn’t we be offering our judges more productive choices?
Of course we need prisons and jails. There are lots of folks who need to be locked away from society so that our streets and homes are safe. But prison and jail are not a one-size fits all solution. Corrections is one of the great growth industries both here and around the nation. If it worked, if folks learned their lessons and stayed straight after release, the investment might be considered a good one. Not the case.
Different states have tried different solutions. Extensive community service programs, forced treatment and counseling, usually paid for the offender, have shown some promise. The experiment with drug courts has shown promise.
I don’t have the answer. I don’t think society has yet found the answer. Some countries have taken radical paths out of pure frustration.
Now is the time for Governor Daugaard to join with the Legislature, the law enforcement community and the judiciary to find alternatives to wholesale incarceration. We can save a lot of money and a whole lot of lives at the same time.
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