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.