Daugaard Goes Lefty on Prisons
Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard is a liberal.
OK, maybe he’s just caught in more of an only-Nixon-can-go-to-China moment, but hear me out.
In Tuesday’s State of the State Address, the governor essentially admitted that a generation or two of “lock’em up and throw away the key” in adult and juvenile corrections in the state has been a failure.
Or at least, it’s way too expensive to continue.
So, he, the South Dakota judiciary and at least part of the legislature now has come to the conclusion that incarcerating nonviolent offenders a long ways from home and not giving them the treatment they need to not end up in the pokey again is failed policy.
In our KSOO-AM interview with South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson, Tuesday in Pierre, he said that approach was “a failure.” He too has been a leading proponent of making changes in corrections in the state. The courts he administer have also been overrun with dealing with too many repeat offenders that have come back simply because they were warehoused and not treated.
So, has Gov. Daugaard been reading Dr. Karl Menninger’s seminal work on changing from a system of punishment to a system of reformation from his 1966 book, The Crime of Punishment?
I’m guessing not but the result is the same. Dr. Menninger argued nearly 50 years ago that the “get tough on crime” approach doesn’t work on most offenders. What they need is rehabilitation.
What state government has done in the past couple of years — and will do this year and into the future — is to essential reduce prison and juvenile facilities populations to primarily the violent offenders and the non-salvageable and use community corrections — a concept from the 1970s — to treat and monitor nonviolent offenders.
So, instead of getting shipped off to Star Academy in Custer, a juvenile status for misdemeanor offender might stay at home or at least in or near their hometown and receive counseling, drug or alcohol treatment or have to face their peers in youth court.
The same is true for adult nonviolent offenders, who might get similar help in or near their community and face a court of their peers in a drug, alcohol or veteran’s court.
Could you imagine a Democratic governor (like that will ever happen again in South Dakota) announcing such plans? I can hear the Republicans squawking, “You’re being soft on crime!” “Democrats don’t believe in personal responsibility!” Yada, yada, yada.
When Gov. Daugaard, the self-proclaimed frugal Republican, suggests these things, there’s barely a peep from the super majority of his fellow Republicans in Pierre. These reforms will happen.
Not that I’m complaining. And I’m sure the late Dr. Menninger — one of America’s greatest thinkers — would appreciate the fact that only Daugaard can climb South Dakota’s rocky Penalty Hill with checkbook in hand — and change it for the better.