- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

LEAD, S.D. (AP) - Gov. Dennis Daugaard will push lawmakers to fund two new drug courts and a new DUI court in the upcoming legislative session.

Daugaard wants $600,000 in state aid to increase the number of specialty courts to 13 and switch funding for one from federal to state.

Non-violent offenders who go through the courts are sentenced to treatment and supervision instead of prison. Advocates say drug courts help offenders by keeping them in the community while treating their addictions but still holding them accountable for their crimes.

“They give people another chance,” said Julie Schoolmeester, executive director of Face it Together Sioux Falls, an addiction-focused community group. “It’s another great route to try to help people get well.”

Rather than removing offenders from society, the courts focus on treatment options and encourage participants to remain employed and in touch with their families, Schoolmeester said.

Daugaard’s office also backs the specialty courts because reducing the state prison population saves taxpayer money, said administration General Counsel Jim Seward, who led a state panel tasked with reviewing how a 2013 criminal justice overhaul that included a focus on drug courts has been working. The November results are too preliminary to declare the overhaul a blanket success, but Seward has said it looks like the efforts are making progress.

The 2013 legislation changed how the state handles nonviolent drug offenders and authorized the South Dakota Supreme Court to set up drug courts anywhere in the state.

The overhaul was aimed at boosting rehabilitation rates and reducing corrections spending. Curbing growth in the state’s prison population removes the need to construct more facilities, which officials estimated would cost the state more than $200 million.

The legislation aimed to build on the drug court’s successes. The number of new clients nearly tripled between 2012 and 2013.

Under the governor’s proposed budget, new drug courts would be located in Beadle and Brown counties. A group of counties in western South Dakota would see a new DUI court.

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