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Ravnsborg Fails Again: House Judiciary Rejects Costly and Ineffective Restrictions on Presumptive Probation

Jason Ravnsborg
Maybe I need a stronger energy drink….

Having an idiot for an attorney general isn’t all bad. Not only does Jason Ravnsborg’s feckless occupation of the office make it easier for us patriots to defeat the state’s unconstitutional laws in court, but he also lacks the horsepower to push his compensatory-macho legislation to passage.

Ravnsborg’s Senate Bill 6 would have taken away presumptive probation—we don’t put non-violent Class 5 or Class 6 felons in prison unless they pose a risk to the public—for offenders who don’t cooperate with law enforcement investigations. That’s a step back from Ravnsborg’s attempt last year to repeal presumptive probation entirely (2019 SB 19, which failed 12–18 in the Senate). Ravnsborg claims presumptive probation is a “failed program” and that the state needs to be able to threaten drug criminals with prison to get them to rat out their dealers and cooks:

Defendants aren’t cooperating with law enforcement because they know they’re going to get a deal with probation, Ravnsborg said. The state is stuck in the middle where it can’t put the defendants in jail, but they aren’t being sent to treatment, he said. Drug users need treatment, but law enforcement needs to be able to pursue the people who are starting people down the path of using drugs, he said.

“I agree that we cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem, but I also believe we cannot treat our way out of this problem,” Ravnsborg said [Lisa Kaczke, “Committee Rejects Ravnsborg’s Bill to Restrict Presumptive Probation,” Rapid City Journal, 2020.03.04].

Former circuit judge Rep. Timothy Johns (R-31/Lead) says repealing presumptive probation (like Ravnsborg) won’t produce results:

“And what are we gaining as a society? Absolutely nothing,” Johns says. “Because we aren’t spending the money that we should be spending that might be available if we were willing to spend it on the drug treatment. If you don’t have a market, you aren’t going to have people providing the drugs. There’s always a ready market out here and this is not going to stop people from getting drugs as long as you’ve got someone that’s willing to buy them” [Lee Strubinger, “House Committee Rejects Attorney General’s Partial Presumptive Probation Rollback,” SDPB, 2020.03.04].

Defense attorney Eric Whitcher agrees that SB 6 won’t work:

Eric Whitcher, director of the Pennington County Public Defender’s Office, said drug dealers will continue to be in South Dakota as long as people continue to use drugs. He questioned why law enforcement continues to ask for more tools to help them when South Dakota already arrests more people and has tougher drug laws than any other state.

“This bill continues down the same rabbit hole of throwing money down a hole and burning it. It’s not going to solve this problem,” Whitcher said [Kaczke, 2020.03.04].

The Legislative Research Council estimated SB 6 would throw over $850,000 a year down that rabbit hole and require building more prison cells for women or shipping lady cons to costly out-of-state pens.

The American Civil Liberties Union says presumptive probation works fine, giving judges the discretion to put real scumbums (not an ACLU term) behind bars while keeping offenders who just need help getting off drugs close to the families and communities that can provide that help:

The concept of putting fewer people behind bars may seem like a difficult stance to take in a state as conservative as South Dakota, but tough-on-crime policies can’t fix society’s problems – especially in regards to addiction.

“Presumptive probation works. While there are examples of people who have committed crimes who are a true threat to public safety and require incarceration, many others are nonviolent offenders whose sentences do more harm than their underlying crimes,” said Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota policy director. “By staying in their communities, people who have committed low-level, non-violent crimes can work, care for their families and get any addiction treatment they need without contributing to South Dakota’s already overcrowded prison population” [ACLU-SD, press release, 2020.03.04].

House Judiciary killed SB 6 yesterday 8–5. Ravnsborg withdrew his other plan to limit presumptive probation, Senate Bill 7, at its first committee hearing last week.

We could have avoided bad ideas like repealing presumptive probation altogether if we had elected a competent attorney general instead of an inexperienced political tool. But we can at least take comfort in knowing that Ravnsborg’s incompetence will prevent him from delivering on many of his bad ideas.


  1. Debbo 2020-03-05 18:58

    “compensatory-macho legislation”


  2. grudznick 2020-03-05 19:33

    Preach, Mr. H. Preach on. That Mr. Ravnsborg fellow is completely insaner than most, and dim-witted, too. The legislatures are figuring him out, and those fellows who throw in with him will have a political anchor tied to their leg when they go swimming in the deeper waters.

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