Lawmakers resurrected ‘compassionate’ parole for state prison inmates

March 10, 2018

Some dying or seriously ill inmates in state prisons could become eligible for release ahead of normal schedule under legislation headed to Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 March 1 to kill HB 1009 after the lobbyist for the South Dakota county prosecutors said too many inmates would be eligible.

Later that day Sen. Deb Peters gave it new life. The Hartford Republican is lead Senate sponsor.

Several changes narrowed the scope of the measure the governor will consider:

Inmates won’t be allowed to request releases;

They must have medical care needs double the average annual medical cost; and

Felonies through class three would be covered. It previously covered felonies through class one.

South Dakota’s prisons have been increasingly overcrowded. Daugaard’s administration has tried different ways, such as reducing sentences, to avoid adding cells.

Medical releases are the latest approach. The more-restrictive version of the legislation won Senate approval 31-3 Tuesday. The House of Representatives gave final passage Wednesday 58-9.

Rep. Thomas Brunner, R-Nisland, asked the House to accept the Senate amendments. He is prime sponsor.

“It would keep the worst of the offenders in prison and not make them eligible for this compassionate parole provision,” Brunner said.