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Truth in sentencing implemented in South Dakota

In the world of incarceration, community service or good behavior could take a bite out of your sentence. However, newly implemented legislation will take that opportunity away from some.

It’s called ‘truth in sentencing,’ a concept championed before the legislative session by Pennington County State’s Attorney Lara Roetzel. She explained how it works.

“That’s the idea, if someone gets 25 years on a serious violent felony – they should do 25 years in prison," Roetzel said. "That’s not the way it worked in South Dakota at all.”

Roetzel said on one hand it’s a way to increase accountability for offenders, and to ease the pain of victims on the other.

“Yes, he got a 15-year sentence – but he’s not going to serve that," Roetzel said. "He’s going to serve a fraction of that based on his parole eligibility, and how many prior offenses he had and all these complicated calculations that went into that. Translated into something that was really unfair to victims.”

On the other end of the issue are the incarcerated individuals whose lives are dominated by the justice system. While rehabilitation is a major piece of the law enforcement puzzle, Roetzel believes there are limits to that grace.

“We’re talking about the highest-level felonies," Roetzel said. "First degree rape, first degree robbery, attempted murder. We’re not talking about the types of offences where we really focus historically on rehabilitation. So, when we talk about rehabilitation – which is very important and community justice professionals across the board are going to say that’s always where we’re going to start, that’s why we have diversion. That’s why we have specialty courts. We want to fix problems, we don’t want to just lock people away.”

The new statute went into effect this summer, meaning there are now two sets of rules for felons booked before 2023 and post-implementation.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture