Senate Bill 52, which Senator Helene Duhamel (R-32/Rapid City) deems a “true clean-up bill”, barreled through the Senate this week with little discussion and a 33–1 vote. The only nay on the Senate floor came from Senator Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton), who made no remarks explaining his objection.
I’d like to think Senator Bolin recognizes SB 52’s violation of the single-subject rule and was making a stand for law and principle. USD Professor Emeritus Michael Card agrees with me that SB 52 may try to do more than the constitution allows:
One of the concerns is if SB52 possibly violates the single-subject rule:
“One section of the bill that didn’t seem to fit that, and it dealt with the reimbursement of Sheriffs,” said Card [Beth Warden, “Senate Bill 52: Transferring Authority at South Dakota State Prisons,” KSFY, 2023.01.21].
Or maybe Bolin was protesting the fact that the Senate is acting swiftly on a mostly style-and-form corrections bill that will do nothing to resolve the ongoing staffing and safety crisis at the state penitentiary, where guards are often working mandatory 16-hour shifts with little notice.
But no—it appears Senator Bolin is just playing word games:
Senator Jim Bolin of Canton says he prefers to keep the term Penitentiary rather than State Correctional Facility [Warden, 2023.01.21].
Bolin does not explain the basis of his semantic objection (because his Heavens forfend that he have to explain himself to the tedious people). But I can see why a Republican legislator might prefer to call our prisons penitentiaries rather than correctional facilities. The two terms emphasize different actors. Penitentiary focuses on the penitent, the inmate who should be showing sorrow, seeking forgiveness, and doing penance for having done wrong. As word and institution, penitentiary has Christian roots that Senator Bolin surely loves:
The reformers who built the model institutions of the early nineteenth century called them penitentiaries, to compel penitence. They drew from Christian traditions—Quaker tenets of nonviolence, Catholic and Calvinist varieties of asceticism and moral rigor—and they often represented the cell as a place of spiritual rebirth. As a precondition for that resurrection, they led convicts through mortifying processes including “civil death,” a loss of legal personhood with origins in European monasticism. The Philadelphia reformer Benjamin Rush quoted scripture in describing the rehabilitated convict as a man who “was lost and is found—was dead and is alive” [Caleb Smith, answering questions about his book The Prison and the American Imagination, in “Prison as Resurrection,” Religion Dispatches, 2009.10.23].
Penitentiary places the onus of reform on the inmate. Correctional facility includes us jailers (we elect the legislators and judges; we serve on the juries; we send the bad guys to prison) in the action. Correctional facility declares our shared duty to correct what has gone wrong and restore the inmate’s ability to participate in society.
Penitentiary says, “Repent, sinner!” Correctional facility says, “Here, let us help.” So yeah, I can see why Senator Bolin might not like replacing the word penitentiary with correctional facility in our state prison statutes.