ACLU of South Dakota Opposes Modifications to Presumptive Probation

February 20, 2020 10:00 am

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In a 5-2 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance legislation that would revise the conditions under which presumptive probation may be applied.

The ACLU of South Dakota opposes Senate Bill 6, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s second attempt to modify presumptive probation. Last year’s attempt to repeal presumptive probation was voted down.

“Tough-on-crime policies can’t fix society’s problems,” said Libby Skarin, policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota. “By placing additional requirements on people with convictions who are not a threat to public safety, Senate Bill 6 prevents low-level offenders from staying in their communities where they can work and care for their families and contributes to South Dakota’s already overcrowded prison population.”

According to the Legislative Research Council, Ravnsborg’s modifications to presumptive probation would cost the state more than $9.4 million over 10 years in operational costs for the state’s prisons and jails. Additionally, while there is currently sufficient capacity in the men’s prison units to accommodate additional prisoners, the women’s prison units are currently at capacity. Limiting when presumptive probation could be used would result in sending women to be housed outside of South Dakota, possibly at a higher cost, or constructing a new prison facility for female offenders.

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 — courts are to sentence the person to probation rather than penitentiary time. 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.

In addition to the ACLU of South Dakota, the South Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Americans for Prosperity and the South Dakota Trial Lawyers Association also opposed Senate Bill 6.

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