Senate Passes Partial Presumptive Probation Repeal

Feb 25, 2020

The state Senate is passing a partial rollback of presumptive probation—a bill championed by the Attorney General.

Senators are passing the legislation 19 to 16, which could increase prison costs. Critics say the state should focus instead on treatment.

Senate Bill 6 creates an aggravating circumstance if someone convicted of a drug crime doesn’t cooperate with law enforcement. That allows law enforcement to place defendants in jail.

It’s an update to Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s attempt to fully repeal presumptive probation, which failed last year.

Ravnsborg says Senate Bill 6 is another tool for law enforcement to go after drug dealers. That tool can involve informants who are sent along to make a drug deal. He says since the legislature passed a criminal justice reform package in 2013, there’s been a reduction in law enforcement using informants.

“They know they have presumptive probation. They know they have a deal. There’s no incentive to cooperate,” Ravnsborg says. “I believe this will give us an incentive to them as we move forward.”

That’s the very thing that has Republican Senator Arthur Rusch concerned. He says defendants may decline to cooperate with law enforcement for fear of retribution to their family. He says a goal of prison should be retribution, but also rehabilitation.

“If someone is going out and hanging around with their drug buddies that they had before in an effort to try and make a purchase from them as requested by a prosecutor, that’s the exact opposite of what they ought to be doing if they really want to get rehabilitated,” Rusch says.

An accompanying prison cost estimate states the bill could cost the state an additional $800,000 a year. Critics say that number is low. The cost estimate also predicts the state will have to build another women’s prison—which is at capacity—or contract with other states to send female inmates.