Media Contact

Janna Farley,

February 18, 2021

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to kill Senate Bill 163, legislation that would have revised the eligibility requirements for compassionate parole.

The ACLU of South Dakota supported Senate Bill 163. The bill would have given the parole board more direction as to who is eligible for release, particularly when it comes to listening to the recommendations of public health experts during a public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The state has a constitutional duty to care for the people it incarcerates,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “By refusing to act when inmates’ health and safety are placed in risk of serious harm, the state may violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against imposing cruel and unusual punishments. By expanding eligibility for compassionate parole, Senate Bill 163 would have provided additional flexibility and authority to avoid violating these constitutional obligations, especially in situations like we’re in now with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Public health experts recognize that there is a heightened risk of infection for people who are involved in the criminal legal system. Decreasing the numbers of people who are incarcerated has been an ACLU priority throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The ACLU of South Dakota first encouraged the state to grant early or compassionate release for inmates at a higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 in March 2020.

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.