Discover more from The Dakota Scout
VIEWPOINT: Truth in corrections
Conservatives must embrace second chances, redemption for prisoners
In the public eye, there’s a widespread belief that conservative Republicans hold a narrow, draconian viewpoint on law and order. No doubt, most conservatives support serious consequences for serious crimes, but that doesn’t mean we support tired adages like “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” Conservatives, by and large, also believe in second chances and redemption.
Since about 95 percent of all state prisoners will eventually be released, it’s essential to help prepare inmates to successfully reenter society. Unfortunately, as it stands, there’s not much opportunity for training, education or other programming in our state prisons, largely due to staffing shortages and safety concerns. Though the largest portion of the prison population is incarcerated for drug use and possession, only about one-third are engaged in substance abuse treatment. An operational review of our prisons also noted vocational training attendance is “low or non-existent.” Lockdowns are common and inmates can quickly lose sight of a pathway to redemption.
Given that environment, it comes as no surprise that over 40 percent of inmates return to prison within three years of release, ranking our state’s recidivism rate 33rd among the 50 states. Too frequently, individuals who have completed their sentences find themselves without skills, tools or encouragement, ensnared in a vicious cycle and further straining communities and the criminal justice system. In the end, as always, the citizens bear the cost, and not just in the form of crime rates. It costs taxpayers an average of $28,749 to incarcerate a single adult offender for one year.
The Dakota Scout is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support a locally owned, operated and printed newspaper, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Like a lot of problems in government, there are no quick, easy solutions, but there are some first steps we can take together. Sure, we should stabilize staffing levels and build new, modern prisons, but there are also programs that can have a systemic, lasting effect at little cost. A small group of legislators, law enforcement and inmates have been working on a three-year pilot proposal aimed at enhancing prison reentry initiatives and programming. This proposal, aptly named “Truth in Corrections,” draws on a model program in Oklahoma that reduced recidivism rates by 21 percent. It provides state nondriver identification cards and other documentation and services to help inmates transition into a job market that is in desperate need of workers. Furthermore, the bill expands programming opportunities and encourages the use of volunteer and faith-based services, many of which are readily available at no cost to taxpayers.
Our working group believes we should invest in the future of our communities by supporting the rehabilitation and reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals. In the coming weeks, we anticipate refining and releasing the draft language for this bill, titled, “An Act to Enhance Prison Reentry Initiatives and Programming.” We humbly request your support and welcome your suggestions to provide this pathway to redemption. Together, we can build safer communities and lessen the financial burden on all of us.
Brent Hoffman is a military veteran, a published author, occasional newspaper columnist and currently serves as a state senator for South Dakota Legislative District 9.