At the request of Attorney General Marty Jackley’s office, South Dakota legislators are considering Senate Bill 63, a bill that attaches mandatory minimum sentences to certain drug crimes. SB 63 would increase the potential punishment for certain meth-related crimes to 15 – 50 years in prison. When implemented, these sentences can have devastating consequences for people's lives.
The problem with mandatory minimums is that they put all the discretion for who will face a mandatory minimum in the hands of prosecutors who have a professional interest in securing as many convictions as possible. Mandatory minimums ensure that public policy concerns about cost, racial disparities and whether a particular punishment results in public safety are not a priority. The decision regarding what level of incarceration will serve public safety is best left in the hands of judges, who have more of an incentive to balance public safety needs against the facts in an individual case.
Incarcerating more South Dakotans for longer doesn’t just ruin lives – it will cost the state millions, and feed into our state’s mass incarceration crisis. According to a Legislative Research Council estimate, SB 63 will cost South Dakota nearly $5 million over ten years in additional prison costs, and $161,873 in jail costs over ten years. With state and federal prisons crowded way beyond capacity, and too many people locked up for far too long, it’s high time we reevaluate the effectiveness of overly harsh, unnecessarily long, and expensive mandatory sentences.
We cannot continue to use a one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing, and we know we can’t arrest our way out of the problem of substance abuse. Decades of experience shows that harsh sentences for drug offenses neither reduce the availability of drugs, nor make our communities any safer. When considering policy that addresses drug addiction and abuse, we must balance public safety with the need to assist individuals on the path to health and rehabilitation. No one should be locked away for years because of an unnecessarily harsh and expensive mandatory minimum related to drugs.
Contact your legislators today and urge them to oppose SB 63, because South Dakota simply can’t afford the financial, constitutional, and human costs of unjust mandatory minimum sentencing laws.