HURON — South Dakota should consider establishing a separate prison facility strictly for methamphetamine addicts — patterned after a Wyoming model — as a way of combating a growing problem with the drug, a Yankton lawyer and GOP candidate for attorney general said Monday.
“You only go there if you use methamphetamine,” Jason Ravnsborg said at the Beadle County Republican Women luncheon.
In Wyoming, inmates undergo peer pressure-based treatment. “Everybody in there is working on it,” he said.
“They’ve got about a 30 percent recidivism rate, so they’re pretty good results using this program,” Ravnsborg said.
Ravnsborg is one of four GOP candidates for attorney general in the June primary. He serves as deputy state’s attorney in Union County, is in the Army Reserves and is chairman of the Yankton County Republican Party.
As attorney general, he said he would also propose that the state expand its trusty programs by partnering with additional industries so more people serving time can learn a skill before their release.
With jobs, they can earn wages to pay for their upkeep, as well as court fines, costs and restitution, he said.
“A lot times they can walk out of prison having all those things paid,” Ravnsborg said, “so everybody wins there.”
Ravnsborg also spent time explaining the provisions of each of the eight ballot initiatives that voters will decide a year from now.
The measures call for independent redistricting, open primaries, elections by mail, a prescription price cap, government ethics, a tobacco tax for the technical schools, a ban on out-of-state money for ballot questions and medical marijuana.
Doctor-assisted suicide and recreational marijuana were issues that failed to make the 2018 ballot.
Ravnsborg said he favors an early review of the proposed measures to avoid any constitutional problems popping up closer to Election Day.
“I would like to see a committee or a judge, somebody, give it a constitutional review before it goes on the ballot,” he said.
In 2013, legislators overwhelmingly passed a public safety bill designed to ease overcrowding and the need for more prison space.
“What it was intended to do was not send as many people to prison, to have rehabilitation and to help these people get off methamphetamine, especially,” Ravnsborg said.
“Methamphetamine is extremely addictive,” he said. “It takes six to 12 months to get off if you want to work the program. We have a lot of it in this state.”
Since the law took effect, the number of people placed on probation and avoiding prison has risen, but there has been little change in the number of court services officers checking up on them, he said.
A provision in the bill calling for rehabilitation and regional treatment programs never really materialized, Ravnsborg said.
The only treatment programs are in Yankton and at Avera, and there is a need for a facility in western South Dakota, he said.
Trustee units at Yankton and Rapid City are partnering with industry so while they are serving their sentences the men can also learn a skill, often welding.
“They walk across the street and get a job and they walk back,” Ravnsborg said.
He proposes looking for more places around the state that will hire them and teach them a skill. Using the marketplace could put them on the path to rehabilitation as opposed to building more prison cells and housing more people, he said.
Ravnsborg also praised the success of drug courts in South Dakota. Beadle and Yankton are among the counties that have established them.
“They work with you, you have a team of between 10 and 20 people, they’re trying to intensively watch you, you have more requirements and if you do it and successfully complete it you get some rewards,” he said.
Others convicted of drug offenses often get what’s called presumptive probation instead of prison, but could get county jail time for continued arrests.
But that is straining the budgets of counties, Ravnsborg said. Brookings and Sioux Falls are adding on to their jails. Watertown has tried a couple times to pass a bond issue to do the same, and Faulkton County just built a new jail, he said.
“So all your counties are getting that cost versus the state bearing it with sending them to prison,” he said.
The women’s prison in Pierre has a good program, but with smaller numbers. Those in the men’s prison in Sioux Falls undergo treatment, but not until they near the end of their sentence, he said.