Status Report: South Dakota Criminal Justice Reform
The South Dakota Legislature passed legislation during the 2013 session with the goal to improve how the criminal justice system performs. Overall goals for these rules were to improve public safety, hold offenders more accountable and reduce correction spending.
However, one aspect can be considered as a positive is earned discharge credit on parole. Jim Seward who is the legal counsel to Governor Dennis Daugaard is part of the oversight council which is overseeing the criminal justice reforms and helping evaluate the law’s effectiveness. Seward says this part falls in the category of holding offenders more accountable. “When we hear about parolees in the news, it’s usually because one of them did something wrong. In this process, we’re really focusing on the ones that do something right. Then we can put our resources towards the ones that are non-compliant.”
The system becomes reward-based with parolees getting their parole time reduced for following the rules. For every 30 days of compliance, parole is reduced by 30 days. Seward means by being perfect, parole time is essentially cut in half. “(Parolees) are keeping their job, staying out of trouble, going to treatment and paying their restitution. That frees up resources so that we’re supervising the people that are most likely to reoffend. Since July 1st, over 342,000 days have been awarded to a little over 3,300 parolees. As a result, the 40 parole agents in South Dakota are going to handle 50 cases instead of 75. They can hold those 50 more accountable and work with them on a one-on-one basis.” Seward is impressed that the compliance rate among parolees in the first five months of the program is 91 percent.
It is way too soon to say that the law is an overall success. Firstly, some of the goals for the initiative are to prevent construction of penal facilities within the next ten years. Secondly, as of January 1, 2014 a portion of the law had not yet taken effect. For such a broad initiative, time was needed to prepare agencies for all the necessary changes to come. The next wave of change with criminal justice reform in the new year is the probation system which will run on a similar track as parole. Seward expects the report which evaluates the measure’s the first year to be prepared by September or October of 2014.