The lone graduate stood in front of the audience and tried to hold back tears as she told her story of addiction and her plans to stay clean – for her daughter. She wants to sing with her and teach her about her Native American culture. She wants to have a strong family and be a good, sober mom.
As I listened to Mary speak at the Drug Court graduation ceremony earlier this month, I was reminded of the pain and difficulty of overcoming addiction.
As governor, I often see the impact of drugs and alcohol on individuals and families. I’ve seen people get out of jail, only to land back in the courts. Sometimes, it seems like an endless cycle of arrests, hearings and releases – one in three people who are in South Dakota’s state prison right now are serving time for drug offenses. Nationally, half of all inmates are clinically addicted to drugs or alcohol.
I want to get aggressive on confronting South Dakota’s drug epidemic and breaking our cycles of addiction. To do this, I’m focusing on prevention, enforcement, and rehabilitation.
We need to educate kids about the dangers of drugs. At the beginning of this year, I worked with legislators to build a life skills training program to implement in our middle schools. This program consists of 15 sessions per year over the three years where students learn practical skills. Programs like this have been proven to reduce the risk of alcohol, tobacco, violence and drug abuse through the teaching of drug resistance, life management and general social skills. I’m hopeful a program like this will show kids an alternative to drugs and give them hope for a brighter future.
I also want to reach out to people who are already caught in the cycles of addiction. We need to expand treatment options for people who need help. Sometimes, that will require jail time, but many times, I think there is a better way to help people than to make them sit in jail for five or 10 or 15 years.
The most recent study put out in South Dakota shows that 45 percent of people who serve a prison sentence will end up committing another crime. More than four in 10people serving time right now will return to prison within three years. Ninety-five percent of people who are incarcerated due to substance abuse will relapse. Yet many of those incarcerated cannot get treatment within those walls.
We can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. In this regard, our criminal justice system is broken. It’s outdated.
Programs like the Drug Court show different results. Drug courts reduce crime by 45 percent more than other sentencing options. They show that people are more likely to stay clean than those who only serve jail time. They incorporate families into the recovery process and teach people life skills.
It’s also cost-effective. In South Dakota, it costs about $21,000 per person per year to incarcerate a drug-using offender. The cost of a year in the Drug Court program is about $9,000.
The drug court program is strict, but it produces results. Seventy people have graduated from the Sixth Circuit’s problem-solving courts alone. I want to expand options like this in our state. I’m committed to doing that.
Because I want to hear more stories like Mary’s. Her story is a testimony of reclaiming hope – proof that perseverance produces progress, and that addiction can be beat.
If you or someone you love is battling an addiction, I encourage you to get help. You are stronger than this. Your story is not over. Reach out and reclaim hope.