A surge in female prisoners incarcerated on low-level drug charges led to the temporary shutdown of a program at the South Dakota Women’s Prison that helps prisoners maintain family ties and relationships. The Parent and Children Together (P.A.C.T.) program provides extended visitation for imprisoned mothers and their children. P.A.C.T. allows minor children to stay with their mothers in prison for a weekend visit once a month, in addition to regular visitation hours. Prisoners pay $5 per child for each program visit.
According to Kevin Kroger, whose wife, Nicole, is a P.A.C.T. participant, the Kroger family has met at the family-style P.A.C.T. house eight times in just over a year, but received notice that their next scheduled visit had been cancelled. Kroger said the visits were especially important for their three-year-old son, who has Down Syndrome. The family visits allow them to do normal activities, like bathing their son and reading bedtime stories together. “The kids are disappointed, as we look forward to it,” Kroger said. “It’s the closest our family can get for the time being.”
SD DOC Secretary Denny Kaemingk said on March 1, 2016 that an overabundance of incoming minimum-security prisoners had forced officials to set up bunks for 20 women in the house reserved for the P.A.C.T. program to ease overcrowding in the main facility, resulting in the cancellation of many family visits. Kaemingk noted that South Dakota’s ingestion statute, which allows prosecutors to charge someone who tests positive for methamphetamine, cocaine or any other scheduled drug with felony drug possession, was a major factor in the surge of new prisoners. He said many low-level drug offenders being sent to prison could instead get help in their communities. “We’re getting female inmates that we’re mad at, not inmates we’re scared of,” Kaemingk declared. “They’re using prison as a default.”
On March 15, 2016, SD DOC spokeswoman Mandy Nielsen confirmed that the 20 prisoners who were sleeping in the ranch-style P.A.C.T. house had been moved back into the general population. She said some prisoners were transferred and the P.A.C.T. program would again be available for family visits. Of course, that is subject to change if the prison faces future overcrowding.
Sources: www.argusleader.com, https://doc.sd.gov
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