SD DOC secretary speaks on importance of rehabilitation

Spoke about steps being taken in South Dakota correctional facilities focused on rehabilitation for inmates


By Jake Shama
The Daily Republic

MITCHELL, S.D. — Inmates should not be thrown behind bars and forgotten, according to the secretary of the South Dakota Department of Corrections.

Secretary Denny Kaemingk spoke to the Mitchell Lions Club over lunch Tuesday at The Depot about steps being taken in South Dakota correctional facilities such as prisons and jails, focused on rehabilitation for inmates.

"We think you can just forget about people," Kaemingk said of the current attitude toward inmates. "We think we can get rid of individuals by sending them to the penitentiary."

But, he said communities are still going to have to deal with those individuals when they get out.

Kaemingk discussed changes to the correctional system that were made possible by the Public Safety Improvement Act, approved in 2013, and the Juvenile Justice Public Safety Improvement Act, approved in March. The bills are intended to improve policies, increase accountability, reduce spending, prevent future criminal activity and proactively target youth who are a public safety risk.

As part of these initiatives, Kaemingk said the Department of Corrections is transitioning from using administrative segregation, in which dangerous inmates are cut off from the general jail population, to restrictive housing, a program which allows dangerous inmates to take classes and take steps toward joining the general population.

"Before restrictive housing ... you have nothing going on for you," Kaemingk said. "You're just there."

Kaemingk said some of these inmates have been very grateful, and thanked him for the privilege, saying they can "see hope at the end of this tunnel."

Amid these changes, the restrictive housing population in South Dakota is decreasing, a trend that can be seen in states across the country, Kaemingk said.

Kaemingk also discussed the number of mentally ill individuals who are incarcerated.

"The Department of Correction in the U.S. is the largest provider of mental health services in the U.S.," Kaemingk said.

The Criminal Justice Institute recently awarded the South Dakota DOC a grant to expand its services to the mentally ill.

"We need to do a better job of treating and handling mental health issues in our facilities," he said.

Kaemingk also fielded questions from attendees. In answer to one of those questions, Kaemingk said the number of people who commit crimes because they want to be incarcerated—called intentional recidivism—is lower than people think. He also said drugs and alcohol are a common denominator for many inmates.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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