Criminal justice reforms could cut South Dakota prison population in half by 2025, ACLU report says

August 12, 2019 12:30 pm

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South Dakota can cut incarceration in half and save millions of dollars by pursuing reforms to different areas of the criminal legal system, according to the ACLU of South Dakota’s newly released Blueprint for Smart Justice report.

The report highlights sensible reforms that, if implemented, would mean 1,642 fewer people in the state’s prison system by 2025, saving taxpayers more than $112 million that could be invested in schools, services and other resources that would strengthen communities.

Proposed reforms include:

  • Decriminalizing the ingestion of drugs or reducing the crime to a misdemeanor level offense
  • Protecting the reforms that have already been passed, including presumptive probation
  • Continued investment in alternatives to incarceration, such as pre-arrest diversion programs and support services like expanded substance abuse treatment
  • Requiring racial impact statements before any new criminal law or regulation is passed and requiring legislation to proactively rectify any potential disparities that may result with new laws or rules

“South Dakota taxpayers are footing the bill for a bloated prison system that has failed to make us safer,” said Libby Skarin, policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota. “This blueprint bolsters the case for a bold, forward-looking reform agenda that will prioritize people and not prisons, enhance safety and help people live law-abiding lives. Real criminal justice reform like this will require leadership and commitment from our legislators, police, district attorneys, judges, and people in each part of the system, and it’s our hope that this blueprint will help inspire and guide this much-needed reform.”

The Blueprint for Smart Justice report includes an overview of South Dakota’s incarcerated populations, including analysis on who is being sent to jail and prison and the racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the system, how long people spend behind bars, and why people are imprisoned for so long. It also offers a calculation on the impact of certain reforms by 2025 on racial disparities in the prison population, fiscal costs, and progress toward a 50 percent decarceration goal.

The report is a part of the ACLU’s Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints project, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their criminal justice systems, and is the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options that capture the nuances of local laws and sentencing practices.

An interactive website presents the reports and allows users to visualize the reductions in jail and prison populations that would result from the policy decisions. The South Dakota report can be found at

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The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.