Media Contact

Janna Farley,

March 4, 2020

Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s attempt to modify presumptive probation failed in an 8-5 vote today by the House Judiciary Committee.

The ACLU of South Dakota opposed Senate Bill 6, legislation that would have revised the conditions under which presumptive probation may be applied and required defendants to cooperate with law enforcement on drug and substance abuse cases.

The concept of putting fewer people behind bars may seem like a difficult stance to take in a state as conservative as South Dakota, but tough-on-crime policies can’t fix society’s problems – especially in regards to addiction.

“Presumptive probation works. While there are examples of people who have committed crimes who are a true threat to public safety and require incarceration, many others are nonviolent offenders whose sentences do more harm than their underlying crimes,” said Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota policy director. “By staying in their communities, people who have committed low-level, non-violent crimes can work, care for their families and get any addiction treatment they need without contributing to South Dakota’s already overcrowded prison population.”  

According to the Legislative Research Council, Ravnsborg’s modifications to presumptive probation would have cost the state more than $9.4 million over 10 years in operational costs for the state’s prisons and jails.  Additionally, while there is currently sufficient capacity in the men’s prison units to accommodate additional prisoners, the women’s prison units are currently at capacity. Limiting when presumptive probation could be used would result in sending women to be housed outside of South Dakota, possibly at a higher cost, or constructing a new prison facility for incarcerated women.

Presumptive probation, which was signed into law in 2013 as part of the Public Safety Improvement Act, requires that, when sentencing people for Class 5 or Class 6 felonies — classifications that include many common low-level, non-violent drug offenses — courts are to sentence the person to probation rather than penitentiary time. Presumptive probation still allows judges to sentence low-level offenders to prison time if they believe it is warranted – a necessary element to ensuring judges make decisions based on their expertise and knowledge of the facts in each individual case.

About the ACLU of South Dakota

Decisions made during the annual sessions of the South Dakota Legislature have a deep and lasting impact on our state’s people and communities. As new laws are created and others repealed or written, it’s important to ensure that these changes preserve and strengthen our constitutional rights.

Based in Sioux Falls, 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 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.