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Senate committee rejects bill offering inmate rehab initiatives

Senate Judiciary Committee
Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected a bill that would have offered educational and behavioral programs for inmates in the Department of Corrections system.

Senate Bill 74 aimed to offer multiple initiatives and programs to offer inmates skills and training for when they’re out of the correctional system.

The bill was introduced by Minnehaha Sen. Brent Hoffman. He said the current DOC programs are not doing enough.

“The three-year return to prison, recidivism rate, is 40 percent in the state of South Dakota. Down a couple points from last year, but still, nonetheless one of the highest, top-ten in the nation,” said Hoffman.

This is a sentiment Gov. Kristi Noem indicated she supports in her State of the State Address.

“If South Dakotans do get involved in drugs, or another aspect of crime, that should not be the final word on their life. The punishment should match the crime, always. But they should also have the opportunity to be rehabilitated. To become better. To become capable members of our society,” said Noem.

Kellie Wasko is the Secretary of the Department of Corrections. She was appointed by Noem in 2022. She opposed the bill.

“To codify any part of the operations in law would tie the hands of the department and require oversight that doesn’t touch the real industry. To look at a program that is successful in another state and try to emulate word for word in South Dakota is a far cry to claiming success," said Wasko. "Because the cultures of those are not apples to apples. The resources are not apples to apples. The sentencing laws are not apples to apples. And I assure you the outcomes will not be apples to apples. This is why it is so important we allow this advancing practice to continue without interference.”  

Wasko citing lack of resources comes as the state has around $400 million dollars earmarked to build new women’s and men’s prisons. Noem is hoping for another $250 million for that fund.

Multiple committee members said it was a difficult choice to vote against the bill as they believe in the expressed need.

The bill was voted down Thursday four to one.

Evan Walton is an SDPB reporter based in Sioux Falls. Evan holds a Master’s in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and was honorably discharged from the United States Army in 2015, where he served for five years as an infantryman.