Black Hills reaction to state criminal justice reform plan - KOTA Territory News

Black Hills reaction to state criminal justice reform plan


Gov. Dennis Daugaard talked at length Tuesday about reforming the state's criminal justice system by taking nonviolent drug offenders out of our prisons.

He also helped file a bill to expand drug court programs in the state.
KOTA Territory courts kind of led the charge into alternatives for drug offenders in the state, with the very first drug court in South Dakota.

Now they say it's time to keep charging forward.

Chris Pankratz has seen the Northern Hills Drug Court work like it's supposed to.
"Right now we have an 80 percent success rate," said Pankratz, a court service officer (essentially a probation officer) for the program.
That's why he wants to see more drug courts serving more people.
"We can take those individual, those repeat, nonviolent offenders and start to rebuild," he said.
One way to rebuild is by keeping them sober.
Basically it's about keeping things random. So participants have to call in every morning, and if it's their day to come in, they have to submit to a drug test . The most common methods is a urine test that screens for 10 different substances.
That's very similar to a section of a bill filed at the start of the legislative session Tuesday that's based on Hawaii's successful HOPE program.
"Our goal is to ensure that people don't come back," Pennington County state's attorney Mark Vargo said.
It's a goal he's seen achieved firsthand through alternatives to jail time.
"The very first drug court in the United States was in Miami when I was first working down there as an assistant state's attorney" in 1988, Vargo said.
So he's seen the successes, but also the failures. He noted it should be only an option for prosecutors, not a requirement.
"The idea that it could be expanded somewhat," said Vargo, "doesn't mean that it can replace what we have or replace a deterrent system of incarceration."
But those involved with drug court say they're still just scratching the surface.
"There's a lot more positive you can do if you can prevent these individuals from coming in and out" of the system time after time, Pankratz said.

Overall, the language in Senate Bill 70 is pretty vague.

Basically it just says the state Supreme Court can create a drug court in any jurisdiction that deals with criminal prosecutions.
The bill also sets up two pilot programs in the state for a South Dakota HOPE program.

The governor told lawmakers Tuesday they'd be split -- one in a rural area and one in an urban area.

You can read the full text of the 33-page bill here.

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