BISMARCK, N.D. — Negotiations are underway to send North Dakota inmates to an out-of-state private lockup to relieve overcrowding that’s due largely to an increased population spurred by oil development, the state’s top prison administrator said.
“There are too many inmates and not enough capacity,” said Leann Bertsch, director of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
North Dakota’s prison system topped 1,800 inmates last week, a record level for inmate numbers and 500 more than ideal, Bertsch said.
“It’s very likely” an agreement will be reached soon to send some North Dakota inmates by year’s end to a lockup in Colorado that is among some 60 detention facilities owned or managed nationwide by the Corrections Corporation of America, based in Nashville, Tennessee.
The company operates four facilities in Colorado. Bertsch said she did not know yet which facility would house the North Dakota inmates. The private prison operator specifies what types of inmates it will accept and those who have had disciplinary problems and prisoners with recurring medical and mental problems are not eligible, she said.
Bertsch said it’s not yet known how many prisoners would be relocated or the cost to the state.
North Dakota lawmakers this year set aside almost $32 million for contract inmate housing and addiction treatment over the next two-year budget, up nearly $10 million from the previous cycle.
North Dakota’s prison system population has tripled since 1995. At the current incarceration pace, the state’s prison population will double in the next decade and quadruple in 20 years, she said.
At the state penitentiary in Bismarck, a $64 million expansion completed last year — and the biggest since it was built in 1885 — already is at capacity, and county jails across the state are full, Bertsch said.
“We built it and they came, and here we are,” said Sen. Ron Carlisle, R-Bismarck, chairman of an 18-member commission that is studying alternatives to incarceration such as enhanced treatment and rehabilitation programs for nonviolent criminal offenders.
About half of the inmates in the state prison system are locked up for nonviolent crimes, Bertsch said.
North Dakota lawmakers passed legislation this year that gives state judges more sentencing leeway for some crimes and also lowered penalties for possessing drug paraphernalia, a move aimed at freeing up lockup space.
Carlisle said it may be several months before any impact would be seen on the prison system due to the policy changes.
Exporting inmates is not new for North Dakota. The state use to send some of its inmates to a private prison in Appleton, Minnesota. The lockup shuttered in 2010 but some in that state are mulling its reopening to ease overcrowding there.
Bertsch said the Minnesota lockup would be a better option than Colorado to send North Dakota prisoners. She said it would be cheaper to ship prisoners across the border, and the inmates’ families would not have to travel as far to visit.
This article was written by James Macpherson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.