Media Contact

Janna Farley,

February 20, 2020

Today, in a 5-2 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to kill legislation that would have helped decriminalize addiction in South Dakota.

The ACLU of South Dakota supported Senate Bill 115, legislation that would have changed 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 Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota policy director. “South Dakota is the only state that imposes a felony for ingestion of a controlled substance. It’s unfortunate that our lawmakers aren’t willing to advance legislation that would prioritize people and not prisons and to help reform our state’s criminal justice system.”

Reclassifying ingestion as a misdemeanor and investing the resulting savings of state funds in diversion and treatment programs designed to combat addiction would go a long way in helping to solve the underlying problems leading to drug abuse in our state.

As of March 2019, a substantial number of people in South Dakota prisons – 33 percent – were serving time for a drug offense, up from 24 percent in 2014, according to the ACLU’s Blueprint for Smart Justice report. This increase was 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.

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 As new laws are created and others repealed or written, it’s important to ensure that these changes preserve and strengthen our constitutional rights.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.