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Regional jails draft legislation delayed

After studying the need for more jail space this summer, an interim legislative committee has come up with a list of proposals to present to the 2023 South Dakota Legislature for action. Not included on that list is an 11-page draft bill to enable the creation and funding of regional jail authorities.

At its final meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 1, the committee decided the draft needs more work, but legislators serving on the interim committee may choose to sponsor the bill when it’s ready for public consideration.

Rep. Lynn Schneider has served on the interim committee all summer, hearing testimony from witnesses, and he said there are some take-aways that stuck with him. For instance, there’s the high rate of recidivism, the frequency with which offenders return to jail.

“And it’s not just a repeat offender, but many times it’s a ‘repeat or repeat or repeat’ kind of a thing,” he said.

Schneider said he learned that the primary behaviors driving up jail populations involve alcohol, domestic violence, and illegal drugs.

“If people really understood that a whole lot better, maybe that would help with the education process,” he said.

Educating the public on the realities of incarceration is one of the recommendations the committee will present to the legislature.

Sen. Helene Duhamel said she’s not optimistic that public information will change taxpayers’ attitudes.

“The people who say, ‘Lock ’em up, get ’em on off the street,’ are the first people to stop the bond issue on any jail construction,” she said.

Duhamel is heading up the effort to draft legislation to set up and fund regional jail authorities, modeled after the South Dakota Railroad Authority. If established, these new authorities would be able to build regional jails, enter into agreements with private contractors, and raise funds by several means, including bonds, tax levies, loans, and grants. They would operate under the direction of political subdivisions such as counties and municipalities.

Duhamel noted that any increase in property taxes has to have the support of property owners.

“So we have to really think about how we want to get this done, where we have the idea that voters would support something like this,” she said.

The committee will present its final list of recommendations to the Legislative Research Council’s Executive Board.

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007. She Retired from this position in March 2023.