Our new Attorney General may be a bigger idiot than Donald Trump, but at least we have the American Civil Liberties Union to talk sense about policy. The ACLU of South Dakota says Senate Bill 19, the part of A.G. Jason Ravnsborg’s tough-guy act where he repeals presumptive probation, will hurt offenders, families, and taxpayers by increasing prison populations:
We oppose this legislation. Presumptive probation, which was signed into law in 2013 as part of the Public Safety Improvement Act, requires that, when sentencing people for Class 5 or Class 6 felonies — classifications that include many common low-level, non-violent drug offenses, such as the distribution of relatively small amounts of marijuana — courts are to sentence the person to probation, rather than penitentiary time.
South Dakota should preserve the presumptive probation reforms made in 2013 and recognize that prison terms for low-level offenders cause more harm than good by preventing offenders from staying in their communities where they can work and care for their families, said Libby Skarin. Presumptive probation still allows judges to sentence low-level offenders to prison time if they believe it is warranted – a necessary element to ensuring judges make decisions based on their expertise and knowledge of the facts in each individual case. If presumptive probation is eliminated, taxpayers will be on the hook not just for the cost of incarcerating non-violent offenders but also for the cost of expensive new prison facilities to house them [ACLU-SD, statement in opposition to SB 19, 2019.01.07].
ACLU’s policy director Libby Skarin says SB 19 could force us to spend more than $224 million to build new cages for all of the low-risk offenders Ravnsborg needs to create the impression that he’s doing something. The Pierre Capital Journal, the easiest paper for the Attorney General to get a hold of, says, “Attempts to reach Jason Ravnsborg for comment on SB 19 were unsuccessful as of press time on Jan. 7.”