South Dakota will remain the only state in the country with a felony level ingestion charge.
A senate committee is rejecting a proposal that reduces the charge to a class one misdemeanor for the first two charges of ingesting a controlled substance within ten years.
The state has 939 people in prison with a charge of ingestion. Ten percent of those have ingestion as their highest charge. The bill creates a felony for the third offense within ten years, which would reduce the number of people put in prison and jail.
But Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg continues his opposition to reducing the felony charge to a misdemeanor. A legislative summer study looking at the state’s charges relating to controlled substances also rejected similar proposals to reduce the ingestion charge.
Ravnsborg says the legislation would delay treatment for those charged with drug crimes.
“You’re further pushing the problem down, you’re committing more crimes, you have to deal with the situation over and over again by having a misdemeanor level,” Raavnsborg says. “There’s no deterrent factor. I think that as the system is now is more proper.”
Ravnsborg says some communities in the state offer diversion programs. He says there’s also suspended and delayed imposition of sentencing where those charged can get a felony scrubbed from their record.
However, the prime sponsor of the bill says it will save the state money and help address the state’s meth issue. According to Legislative Research Council document, if enacted it would save the state about $3 million a year.
Senator Craig Kennedy, a Democrat from Yankton, says the state uses an old fashion blunt weapon to deal with drug abuse.
“The consensus of the experts is that you cannot deal with drug abuse by incarceration,” Kennedy says. “My attempt was to try and bring a different approach to South Dakota and say let’s just with—certain offenses, just the offense of ingestion—let’s try dealing with it in a different way.”
The Senate Judiciary rejected the proposal 5 to 2. Earlier that committee, they passed a bill that creates an aggravating circumstance if drug crime defendants don’t cooperate with law enforcement. That could increase the prison population, requiring the state to send female inmates out-of-state--or build another women’s prison, since the existing building is at capacity.