The Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader took a look back at an unprecedented mass commutation of 36 inmates by then-Gov. Bill Janklow in 1986. Faced with ballooning prison numbers, Janklow opted to cut loose what he considered low-risk inmates with few local ties.
It was a gamble that turned out to be a much bigger public safety risk than the governor probably ever imagined. A few took advantage of the release to start families and businesses. Many ended up in prison for crimes ranging from dealing drugs to armed robbery and burglary. At least six still are behind bars. One raped a 23-year-old woman in a field 20 months after he was granted his early release. “We didn’t know that,” the mother of the victim said from her North Carolina home after hearing of the early release. “That bothers me to hear that. My daughter’s life could have been different if she hadn’t gone through that trauma.” Janklow used his commutation power at an unmatched rate, issuing almost 2,000 commutations during a second eight-year stint as governor. In the case of the 36 inmates in 1986, the stipulations they leave the state, and the threat of revocation, were unique.