Jail-based competency services approved by committee


PIERRE – A bill that would decrease the time that defendants spend in jail as they await services to determine their competency to stand trial was approved Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

SB46 expands services for those defendants who can’t understand the court proceedings or are unable to help with their defense. As proposed in the legislation, in the right circumstances those defendants would be eligible for jail-based services or out-patient treatment. 

By having to wait for those services at the Human Services Center in Yankton, defendants have to spend a longer time in jail, according to Laura Ringling of the Department of Social Services. Ringling said plans are being made to offer the competency services at the Minnehaha County Jail.

Staci Ackerman of the South Dakota Sheriffs’ Association said long waits in jail add to county expenses. In Minnehaha County, the average wait for competency services is 100 days at a cost of $98 per day, Ackerman said. 

Currently at the Minnehaha County Jail, four defendants are awaiting competency services, Ackerman said. Their stays so far in the jail range from four months to seven months. 

Opposing the bill was Justin Bell, representing the South Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Bell praised the outpatient portion of the bill but said he didn’t want the committee to approve a bill that would “convert jails into quasi-hospitals.”

Bell testified that studies have shown that jail-based services don’t save money. “Doing it on the cheap is not something that should happen,” Bell said. 

Bell offered an amendment that would have struck the jail-based services included in the bill. That amendment failed.

A staffing shortage at HSC, where two of four units that would treat defendants are closed, was a point of contention between Ringling and Sen. Craig Kennedy, D-Yankton. Ringling said the units are closed because of a shortage of health care professionals and that HSC offers competitive wages. Kennedy got her to agree that not everyone would characterize the wages at HSC as competitive. 

“We’re creating a situation where that will become a default,” Kennedy said, explaining that allowing jail-based services would take away any inclination the Legislation might have to offer more funding to HSC. 

Sen. Arthur Rusch, R-Vermillion, said it was a fact that HSC is underfunded and understaffed. Supporting SB46 would help shorten the time that defendants waiting for services have to spend in jail, Rusch said. 

The committee endorsed the bill on a 6-1 vote. It now goes to the full Senate.

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