Series of state penitentiary, criminal defense bills move through SD Legislature

Series of prison, criminal defense bills move through SD Legislature

It’s been two weeks since the South Dakota Legislature first convened, and a series of bills related to the planned operation of a state penitentiary in Lincoln County are slated for discussion and debate.

While some have already advanced, another was quickly swept away. A third cluster of bills have yet to be discussed.

As questions swirl about how to approach and logistics of the construction and operation of a new penitentiary, so do questions about Sec. Kellie Wasko, head of the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC).

Just days before the Legislature convened on Jan. 9, a collective of corrections employees released a letter calling for Wasko’s replacement.

“A prevailing sentiment among most staff is that Secretary Wasko’s continued tenure as a leader has proven ineffective,” the letter reads. “Many believe that a change in leadership, one that is more supportive of the well-being and concerns of correctional officers, is imperative.”

In the letter, staff allege that Wasko’s policies have led to an increase in contraband and drug distribution, increased inmate’s resistance to corrections officers’ authority and increased response times to emergencies.

The call for her replacement resulted in Rep. Kevin Jensen, R-Canton, asking fellow lawmakers to vote against prison expansion until the issues brought forth in the letter are resolved.

“A new building will not fix horrible policy issues,” Jensen said he told lawmakers. “There is no urgency to move forward. An 800 million dollar mistake would be on our heads if we approve it.”

While it’s unclear whether lawmakers plan to heed his advice, here are a few important prison and criminal defense bills to keep an eye on:

HB 1057: Creating a statewide public defender’s office

One piece of legislation would create two new bodies in the realm of criminal defense for low-income individuals across South Dakota.

House Bill 1057 would direct for the creation of the Commission on Indigent Legal Services and Office of Indigent Legal Services.

The creation of those bodies was a need identified in a summer study conducted by lawmakers last year. Per the bill, the commission would oversee indigent representation services while the office would do the groundwork providing those services.

You can read the full article at the Mitchell Republic.