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Bill adjusting state's felony ingestion reaches Senate floor

Lee Capitol.jpg
Lee Strubinger

A Senate Health panel is passing along a bill that modifies the state’s felony level ingestion charge.

The sponsor of the measure hopes the change will funnel would-be felons and inmates into addiction treatment.

Republican State Senator Michael Rohl

The 2023 session has been defined by extending sentences for violent offenders and building new prisons.

Nearly every state group that focuses on criminal justice says the state needs more methamphetamine addiction treatment—from the Attorney General to the ACLU.

State Sen. Michael Rohl heavily amended one of his bills to alter the state’s felony ingestion charge.

It says the first two ingestion convictions within a ten-year period are a misdemeanor. Any person convicted for a violation must undergo a court-ordered evaluation for chemical dependency.

“Essentially what we’re doing is we’re setting up a system to send people to actual treatment to get help, as opposed to going to prison.” Rohl said.

South Dakota is one of the only states in the country that charges a felony for ingestion of a controlled substance. Law enforcement groups say the charge is helpful in catching dealers. The number of ingestion convictions spiked following a 2013 criminal justice reform package.

As of last December 22, 218 individuals are incarcerated for ingestion. Fifteen percent of inmates in the state’s overcrowded women’s prison are in with ingestion as their highest charge. The charge disproportionately affects Native American women.

South Dakota Ingestion Convictions.png
Lee Strubinger
Ingestion convictions since 2013

According to a 2018 prison cost estimate, the charge costs the state and counties $6 million annually.

Under Rohl's bill, a person is still subject to a felony after their third charge within ten years under the proposed bill.

“This law does not change the fact that some of these people will go to jail. The judge still has that discretion to send these people to jail for a year,” Rohl said. “What this law does is say the judge has to send them to get evaluated for chemical dependency. Based off that ruling, he can make that determination. Does this person need to go to treatment, or does this person need to go to jail?”

The Republican-controlled legislature has been hesitant to change the state’s felony ingestion charge, which typically goes before a judiciary committee. The Senate Health Committee passed the bill unanimously. Senators will debate the bill next week before Wednesday.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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