Bubbling on out swift Senate’s stove is Senate Bill 52, an extensive revision of laws related to prisons, sentencing, executions, and other matters. The Department of Corrections requested these changes, most of which consist of replacing “penitentiary” to “state correctional facility”. However, tucked into the 98 sections of this multi-subject bill are a few changes of apparent substance:
- Section 37 puts the Corrections Secretary, not the penitentiary warden, in charge of carrying out executions. Sections 38, 40, 41, 43, and 44 elaborate on this transfer of authority to various details of executions.
- Section 39 repeals the law that segregates death row inmates from other prisoners and that requires a court order to authorize visitors other than family, clergy, and counsel.
- Section 50 authorizes the Secretary to designate prisons as having Romanly numerated security levels ranging from I (lowest: no fence required) to V (highest: continuously patrolled double fencing “with razor wire and detection devices or equivalent security architecture” and “controlled sally ports”).
- Section 57 moves purchasing power from the warden to the Secretary.
- Section 58 expands a ban on penitentiary employees’ having any pecuniary interest in contracts or business conducted by the penitentiary to apply to all Department employees, contracts, and business.
- Section 70 subjects the warden’s decision to modify discipline on inmates for bad behavior to approval of the Secretary.
- Section 72 transfers from the warden to the Secretary the power to extend the limits of where an inmate may be confined.
- Section 78 removes job-seeking from the list of reasons for which the warden may release an inmate on supervision.
We may debate the merits of reducing the power of wardens and moving several decisions to the top of the prison chain of command. But we should immediately tap the brakes on Senate Bill 52 as a clear violation of the single-subject rule. Warden authority, Secretary authority, executions, security levels, inmate discipline, work release—those are all different subjects, and Article 3 Section 21 of the South Dakota Constitution requires that every law embrace only one subject. No one on Senate Judiciary noticed that unconstitutional multi-subjectivity—the committee deemed SB 52 uncontested Thursday and placed it on the Senate’s consent calendar.