Media Contact

Janna Farley,

February 23, 2021

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance a bill to help decriminalize addiction in South Dakota.

The ACLU of South Dakota supports Senate Bill 143, legislation that would change ingestion from a felony to a Class 1 misdemeanor for the first two offenses.

“Though drug use is undoubtedly a serious issue, we can’t incarcerate our way out of addiction,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “The enormous amount of money South Dakota spends on incarcerating people for drug-related offenses is disproportionate and causes more harm than good to individuals struggling with addiction, their families and their communities.”

Approximately 33 percent of people in South Dakota prisons are serving time for a drug offense, according to the ACLU’s Blueprint for Smart Justice report. That’s up from 24 percent in 2014 – an increase driven almost entirely by a rise in the number of people whose most serious offense was unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance. The percentage of women behind bars is even higher, with 64 percent of women imprisoned serving time for drug offenses.

South Dakota is the only state that imposes a felony for ingestion of a controlled substance. Reducing the penalty for ingestion of a controlled substance from a felony to a misdemeanor would save the state nearly $35 million dollars in department of corrections expenses over 10 years, according to the Legislative Research Council’s prison and jail cost estimate attached to this bill.

About the ACLU of South Dakota

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of South Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes North Dakota and Wyoming. The team in South Dakota is supported by staff in those states.

The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people.  In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit communities. The ACLU of South Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of South Dakota.