SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota prison inmates have lost access to paid legal aides.
They’re now expected to find their own help using the tablet computers that were issued to inmates this year, the Argus Leader reported .
Corrections officials said it’s not necessary to keep paying an on-site paralegal and part-time lawyer now that inmates have around-the-clock access to an electronic legal library. Department of Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk said he sees the move as a win for taxpayers that also preserves the right of access to the courts.
Some defense lawyers said they see the switch as akin to replacing medical staff with medical manuals.
“For some of the lower functioning inmates or less well-educated inmates, it’s a lot like to giving a book to someone who can’t read,” said Jason Adams, a Sioux Falls lawyer who has represented inmates who’ve challenged their convictions. “Giving you access to (LexisNexis) doesn’t teach you how to do legal research.”
The legal aid contract cost South Dakota $135,400 this year.
Kaemingk said legal aid expenses have been troubling him since he became secretary in 2011. The state paid more than $276,000 this year by adding the cost of paper law books and payments to lawyers for inmates with a conflict with the on-site attorney and the state.
“This has been a very expensive thing for taxpayers,” Kaemingk said.
South Dakota had been one of just two states to offer a similar legal aid contract, Kaemingk said. The other is Rhode Island.
Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com