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Area sheriffs weigh pros, cons of proposed drug program

The Davison County Public Safety Center serves as the home for county lockup. (Matt Gade/Republic)

A program described as 24/7 for drug addicts may be coming to Davison County, but not everyone is a fan.

Seven sheriffs from across south-central South Dakota met Monday in Mitchell to discuss a variety of issues related to local law enforcement, including a possible expansion of the Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program in Davison County.

According to Davison County Sheriff Steve Brink, a judge will meet with local officials and sheriffs from nearby counties next week to determine whether HOPE probation will be approved for use in Davison County.

Brink compared the program to the 24/7 alcohol sobriety program. HOPE is for drug addicts and requires immediate sanctions after a violation.

"This is going to be a Davison County deal, and the surrounding counties that use our jail ... will have a say in it, too," Brink said. "But the judge is the big boy. If he says it's going to happen, it's going to happen."

Two First Judicial Circuit judges recently retired, so Brink doesn't know who will be appointed to oversee next week's meeting. Brink said sheriffs from Aurora, Charles Mix, Hanson, McCook, Miner and Sanborn counties attended Monday's meeting, and he expects many of them to attend the hearing next week.

Brink did not give an opinion on the program, but he said the decision could impact other counties who contract with the Davison County Jail to hold their prisoners.

Sanborn County Sheriff Tom Fridley said many of his county's inmates are housed in Mitchell, but because Sanborn County is in the Third Judicial Circuit, he said next week's decision won't directly impact his office.

Still, he thinks it's only a matter of time before HOPE probation comes to the Third Circuit, too, which he believes will increase costs for local law enforcement.

"It's going to come because they're going to push it on us," Fridley said. "It's going to be kind of like the draft. You volunteered because they told you you volunteered."

Fridley supports the program's philosophy, but while the state approves the program, he said counties and sheriff's offices foot the bill, and additional transports of HOPE probation violators could put another strain on small departments.

Fridley said the program could cause another strain. HOPE probation requires swift sanctions, which often come in the form of a few days in jail, but local jails are already struggling to find rooms for incoming inmates.

Sanborn County has contracts with jails in Mitchell, Huron, Madison and Lake Andes, so while it's sometimes difficult to find a space, Fridley said the situation hasn't become dire.

Still, Fridley shared his concern with his fellow sheriffs on Monday, saying it is becoming especially difficult to find a place for juvenile and women offenders.

"It's a possibility you get a few violators during the HOPE program that could tie up your jail where they normally wouldn't," Fridley said.

However, jails can also be tied up by an increase in traffic arrests, Fridley said, and he said some of the issues created by HOPE could work themselves out.

Charles Mix County is one of the few counties in South Dakota with HOPE probation, and the county celebrated its first graduate from the program in May 2016.

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