HAMIEL: Ingestion law a problem, ex-official says

HAMIEL: Ingestion law a problem, ex-official says


Dennis Kaemingk is a law and order kind of guy.

He spent a career in law enforcement, first at the Mitchell Police Department rising to the rank of captain of detectives, and finishing as the Secretary of Corrections under Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

As state lawmakers consider changes in laws controlling illegal drugs to address burgeoning prison and jail populations, I wanted Kaemingk’s take on what should be done.

Information by the state Legislative Research Council indicates that if the penalty for ingestion of a controlled substance was changed from a felony to a misdemeanor, the state would save $50 million over 10 years.

But is softening the penalty for drug infractions the wise response? What follows is my interview with Kaemingk, edited for length.

Q: Give us some background on the state’s drug laws and where we are today.

A: I think that the ingestion law and how it is being used puts us in the situation we are in. We are creating felons like no other state when it comes to drugs and the place where they end up is in prison or jail. When you take a low risk offender and incarcerate them, we risk making them worse, rather than better. They start associating with other felons and are less likely to be in a pro-social environment. We are the only state in the U.S. where ingestion is a felony, first time. We are doing a detrimental service to these individuals, their families and taxpayers who foot the bill.

Q: South Dakota has a higher percentage of incarcerations for drugs than other states. Why is this?

A: We have a lot of drugs in South Dakota, but so do other states. They do not have the incarceration issues that we have. It seems like South Dakota is on steroids because ingestion is a felony.

Q: Should possession of marijuana be decriminalized?

A: I don’t know where that would get you. I don’t favor decriminalization of drugs. There needs to be social norms, what is right and what is wrong. We just need to respond differently, a more robust understanding of what we can do outside of jail or prison.

Q: What are the underlying causes of drug abuse and how can they be addressed?

A: It is a society, family and mental health issue. All contribute to the problem. I don’t believe that we are ignoring these issues, we just don’t see another easy solution. Our default is incarceration. We need to apply more resources in identifying mental health problems at the onset and promote early interventions. The breakdown of the family and norms we’ve been used to — we are seeing this throughout our society and need to get a handle on it.

Q: What kind of programs would be needed to replace incarceration?

A: Diversions, incentives and interventions at the time of arrest. Diversion into some other program has to be focused. It lies at the beginning of the system and not at the end. Once they are sent to prison or jail, it’s a whole different ballgame. But I think diversion right away, figuring out where they are, what their needs are, I think that’s where the benefits are. We should explore what other states are doing.

Kaemingk added this:

Illegal drug use is generational. It has been generational for a long time in South Dakota. The present practice of incarceration has not worked in the past and will not work in the future. We continue to think punishment works for an addiction; it does not.

Noel Hamiel is a retired newspaperman and former state legislator. He also writes a column for weekly newspapers at noelhamiel.com. He can be reached at noelhamiel@gmail.com.

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

On Jan. 17, Michelle Obama's birthday, the Trump administration proposed rollbacks in nutrition standards in the school meal program. Under the proposal, legumes and potatoes will count as vegetables, fewer fruits will be served at breakfast and a la carte meals will allow students to select items high in fat. The result will be increased access to foods like french fries, hamburgers and other ...

What's revealing about so many self-described nationalists is their contempt for the nation they claim to love. When President Trump talks about America, he talks about how people who don't love it should leave it - and then he talks about how awful it is and how much he doesn't love it. Here is America's president commenting on America's most populous city and fourth most populous state: "So ...

  • Updated

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday can reliably be counted on for two phenomena: an outpouring of commitment to the ideal of nonviolent social change and a "revelation" that Dr. King was a Republican. That last point also reliably draws groans and exaggerated eye-rolling from those of us who say, "And your point is ...?" King himself was publicly nonpartisan but very laudatory of the ...

  • Updated

America's businesses are facing an unprecedented labor shortage, a drag on economic growth that risks derailing the expansion. Yet we also have a pool of millions of willing workers who are unemployed or substantially underemployed - those with a criminal record. Bringing these prospective employers and employees together in a profitable and sustainable way is an economic imperative. Our work ...

We the people of the United States of America are deeply invested in the impeachment trial now underway in the U.S. Senate, prompted by two articles of impeachment brought by the House of Representatives. But the House, we should remember, omitted several other potential grounds for impeachment, including racism, sexism and what the Dalai Lama aptly called the president's "lack of moral ...

Here are three things that happened on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., an impeachment trial was going on. It was aimed at determining whether the president of the United States is guilty of abusing the power of his office and obstructing a congressional investigation. A short walk away from the impeachment fight, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists staged a news ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alert

Breaking News