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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

SD Corrections Secretary Reisch: Prison Numbers "Out of Control"

A few weeks ago, Drs. Newquist and Blanchard offered an enlightening discussion about South Dakota's burgeoning prison population. South Dakota Corrections Secretary Tim Reisch agrees there's a problem in the increasing number of people for whom his department has to take responsibility. In a story that didn't get much online attention last week (I can't find a full active copy online), Secretary Reisch discussed the growing expense of corrections in South Dakota and nationwide. (I quote at length, because it's interesting!)

In South Dakota, about 30 percent of inmates released wind up returning to prison within a year, 39 percent within two years, and 45 percent within three years, according to Corrections Department records.

Reisch said South Dakota's average daily adult prison population has risen from 2,267 in 1998 to a projected 3,451 this year....

"That's a lot of beds. That's a lot of mouths to feed," the corrections secretary said. "Many of these people have been in prison before."

The growing prison population forces the state and local governments to spend a lot of taxpayers' money that could be diverted to other programs if so many inmates did not return to prison, Reisch said.

The Corrections Department budget has risen from $49.4 million a decade ago to $108.7 million this year, he said. While it costs nearly $69 a day to keep an inmate in the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Fals, it costs only $3.65 a day to supervise someone on parole.

The United States leads the world in putting people in prison, with more than 700 out of each 100,000 people behind bars, Reisch said.

In South Dakota, one in every 104 adults is in prison or jail, which ranks South Dakota 25th among the states, Reisch said.

A study by the PEW Center on the States found that one in 31 U.S. citizens are in prison or jail or on probation or parole, Reisch said. "This corrections thing has really gotten out of control" ["Panel Works to Keep Released Inmates from Returning to Jail," AP via Madison Daily Leader, 2009.03.27, p. 7].

The article notes that over half of the 2,072 South Dakota inmates released in 2007 did their time mainly for drugs or drunk driving. I like to think giving drunk drivers and druggies some time to think about their crimes in a nice quiet cinderblock room, but the recidivism numbers seem to say otherwise.

When budgets are tight and even our corrections secretary says the "corrections thing" is "out of control," we need to look for other options. Maybe we serve society and the state budget better by expanding the Attorney General's 24/7 Sobriety Program—if we have the money and personpower to lock a few thousand people up and feed them three squares a day, we have the resources to manage a few thousand more urine tests or monitoring bracelets. Maybe we serve restorative justice better by putting more drinkers and dopers on a tight leash but leaving them out in the workforce where they can contribute to the economy and pay their victims back (if their crimes had any direct victims).

No criminal deserves a free pass. But society deserves a good return on its corrections investment. When parole or similar supervision costs a twentieth of incarceration, we should look for more ways to take advantage of such programs to straighten out criminals and our aching state budget.


  1. Good post.

    This is a tough one for me. I'm a law-and-order type (if you can't to the time...well, you know). I am thinking that maybe, as far as the DUIs are concerned, they oughta be jailed on the first offense instead of the zillionth one. A lot of people are so far gone by the time they finally end up doing serious jail time that they don't care if they have to go back or not. That said, I agree that the 24/7 program is effective in many ways (including cost) and should be expanded.

    I also don't like the fact that we taxpayers are picking up the tab for inmate meth-heds who need restorative dental work, when I just shelled out $1,500 to fix problems that just come with aging, ha.

    So, I don't know what the answer is. Your post certainly is one to think about.

  2. Build it and they will fill it.
    (Please note also that these are not recession caused numbers, rather this population explosion occurred during the "good years". In a recession prison populations tend to decline because folks have to share family housing, tend to keep an eye on each other, etc.)

    It's probably past time to back off on imprisoning many non-violent offenders. As for DUI's, civil forfeiture of the instrument of the crime (vehicle) would be a HUGE deterrent, in addition to county jail, orange jumpsuits ( supervised work release), other fines and treatment. We forfeit other criminal instruments in drug, burglary, robbery, assault cases, why not DUIs?

  3. Thanks, mbk. I'm still wondering: we do need to punish criminals, and I like Anon's suggestion on civil forfeiture (losing your car is almost as big a loss of liberty in South Dakota as being locked up). Maybe instead of putting first-time DUI's in jail, it would be sufficient punishment to make them check in to the jail every day for their blood test. Not only are their movements limited (no flying off to Vegas for a weekend), but they still have to keep a job, feed themselves, and pay their own rent. Is that a win-win?

  4. Yes, it would. That kinda works like 24/7, where you have to show up for a breathalyzer (sp?) every day.

    OK, now that we have solved the problem, :-) what next?

  5. Forgot to add that anon's idea is excellent as well.

  6. so here's the deal Corey...Please PLEASE find one correctional counselor with a counseling degree...please. If you do I will buy you the beverage of your choice.

    Recidvism is ridiculous in this state because there is no rehabilitiation. Change must come from within certainly but BUT many of these men and women need and desire guidance and help.

    Part time farmers, small business owners, promoted guards posing as counselors and a very overwhelmed and out numbered staff are not the help needed.

    I broke my cycle...it can be done; but I had the advantage of suportive family and friends, an education, willpower and a solid release plan. I was way WAY ahead of the curve.

    When we stop treating sicknesses as diseases (addictions and mental illness) our prison population will drop.

    BTW Corey...where besides prison can one find a state sponsered treatment program?!?!?!?!?! You know for people who can't afford treatment but want...NEED....help?

    Punishment has won the war over Rehabilitation. We are reaping exactly what we sowed. Prison has become a business that is profitable to this state. Who wired the schools? Who builds the cabins for the state parks? Who builds the Govenors houses? Who fights forrest fires? Who does disaster clean up? Who ran the state farm? Who work for 25 cents an hour for the DOT, Counties (including the Yankton Library) and other entities?

    Prisoners. The correction system is nothing but a machine with a HUGE revolving door.

    Hit me up some time I'll give you first hand truths.

    Shane Micheal Gerlach

  7. So here's the real question: Of the 30 percent that will return to jail within a year, what percentage are back in jail for another DUI or drug offense. If it's the majority, it may just be becaue those offenders haven't done anything to change their lifestyle. They get out of jail and get back into the same circle of people who put them there in the first place. Maybe jail isn't the solution -- that really only serves as a way to sober them up. A true alcoholic will get out of jail and start tipping beers again and EVENTUALLY they'll get behind the wheel again and get caught.

  8. There is ia differance between repeat offender and parole violator.


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