Media Contact

Janna Farley,

February 7, 2023

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance legislation that would restrict parole and mandate that people serving time for certain offenses complete their entire sentences.

The ACLU of South Dakota opposes Senate Bill 146. This bill prescribes a one-size-fits-all solution to a very complex issue that increases costs to the state’s prison system and lacks a thoughtful approach to real-people’s lives.

“These tough-on-crime policies can’t fix society’s problems,” said Samantha Chapman, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “Research has shown that locking people up for more time does not make communities safer. Incarceration has a marginal and diminishing effect on decreasing community crime and can impose social and economic costs that can even cause crime to increase. If we want to improve public safety, we need to increase investment in rehabilitation and reentry, not incarceration.”

Through the length of a sentence, there is a lot of time in which people can be helped to change and improve, then assessed to see whether they have progressed to a point where they can safely participate in society. The goal of incarceration should be rehabilitation. By eliminating the possibility of parole for whole swaths of incarcerated people, there is no motivation for self-evaluation and genuine desire for change.

Overly long sentences isolate individuals from their families and leave them unprepared to successfully reintegrate into their communities. Beyond the harm this inflicts on people who are incarcerated, long-term imprisonment shatters families and forces children to grow up without parents, grandparents, caregivers, and more. These punishing policies overwhelmingly affect people of color and families living in low-income areas already reeling from decades of disinvestment, and exacerbate the social problems that lead people to commit crimes in the first place.

“South Dakota taxpayers are footing the bill for a bloated prison system that has failed to make us safer,” Chapman said. “Real criminal justice reform will require leadership and commitment from our legislators, police, district attorneys, judges and people in each part of the system – not just locking people up and throwing away the key.”

Additionally, the legislature should not be responsible for an overhaul of the parole system. The topic should be studied extensively by a task force, and any changes to the system should be approached with careful consideration.

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.