South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds says he wants a task force of lawyers, judges and lawmakers to help decide whether to change how the public is informed of prison sentence reductions. Rounds also said he wants to review an inmate work program that rewards service with reduced time in prison; the governor was unaware that prisoners are required to take part, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports.
At issue is a wide-ranging program crafted by former Gov. Bill Janklow to use inmate labor for tasks as varied as electrical wiring in schools and tornado cleanup on Indian reservations. Starting in 1995, Janklow turned a modest inmate community service program into a massive and low-cost work force that could respond to disasters, handle ongoing state building maintenance and provide the muscle for new initiatives such as campground development on the Missouri River.
Part of the work program was an aggressive clemency policy. Janklow often commuted days or months from sentences of inmates who had performed well in forest fire duty or school wiring. During his eight-year term, the last governor issued 1,999 commutations. In nearly all the cases, prosecutors, victims and their families were not notified of the reduction in sentence.
South Dakota’s commutations led the nation during that time, according to an Argus Leader survey, and many states had only a handful of such actions or none.
Some prosecutors have been concerned that they have no voice in whether a sentence is reduced, even if it involves an inmate they prosecuted. In November, the South Dakota States Attorneys Association adopted a resolution asking that governors allow input from prosecutors before granting clemency requests.