Incoming Attorney General (that seems to exaggerate it; can’t we say “Corporal”? “Ensign”? “Petty Officer”?) Jason Ravnsborg says he’s going to end presumptive probation, which means that instead of mandating that lower-level first-time felons get probation, judges will have the option to send some of them to prison.
That means more people will go to prison, right?
I do not believe that’s the case at all, I believe that it just gives the discretion back to the judges. It’s still up to the judges on the individual case to decide if the person needs to go or not, but right now, their hands are tied, and I believe that we have a lot of good men and women serving us on the judiciary, and I believe that their discretion should carry the day [Jason Ravnsborg, interview with Jerry Oster, “SD Attorney General-Elect Jason Ravnsborg Submitting Bills to the Legislature,” WNAX Radio, 2019.01.02].
Jason, saying “I believe” before every claim you make does not make it truer. And it’s hard to find a falser claim than the contention that ending presumptive probation won’t mean more people in prison.
South Dakota’s prison population declined slightly in the two years after SB 70 was enacted and was 8 percent lower at the end of 2015 than experts had projected three years earlier. This brief summarizes the impact of the presumptive probation policy and felony reclassifications on the state’s prison population and public safety. Drawing on South Dakota’s data, we identified four major impacts from these policy changes in the two years following legislative enactment:
- Judges used probation more frequently—the probation placement rate for offenses subject to presumptive probation increased from 69 to 80 percent;
- Fewer people were sent to prison—new court commitments for offenses subject to presumptive probation were down 16 percent;
- Prison terms were shorter for drug abuse and addiction offenses—sentence lengths for drug possession and ingestion were cut in half; and
- More people were sentenced for felony offenses—convictions increased 26 percent, driven by an increase in total felony filings (14 percent) and convictions for drug possession and ingestion, Class 5 and 6 felonies subject to presumptive probation increased 77 percent.
South Dakota’s presumptive probation policy and felony reclassifications played a significant role in averting South Dakota’s prison population growth [Brian Elderbroom, Samuel Bieler, Bryce Peterson, and Samantha Harvell, “Assessing the Impact of South Dakota’s Sentencing Reforms,” The Urban Institute, May 2016].
Presumptive probation means fewer people in prison. Eliminating presumptive probation means more people in prison. Somehow our incoming Attorney General doesn’t see that simple, evidence-based fact. Welcome to the density of Jason Ravnsborg.