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Oil Patch prisoners spill into Minnesota jails

By: Kevin Bonham

CROOKSTON, Minn. – The oil boom in western North Dakota is producing a new kind of bonanza in the Red River Valley – income for regional jails.

Though federal officials have tried to keep people arrested in North Dakota in North Dakota jails, even jails in neighboring Minnesota have benefited.

Last fall, the Northwest Regional Corrections Center in Crookston began housing its first federal inmates, according to Polk County Commissioner Warren Strandell, who chairs the regional organization that oversees the jail.

The jail can handle as many as 200 inmates, but in the past few years averaged only about 120, forcing officials to get contracts for inmates outside the region and earn more income.

“It’s always been the thought that we would be receptive to taking in inmates from elsewhere,” Strandell said. “The (U.S. Marshals Service) wasn’t on the table back then. That came about with the oil activity.”

The number of federal inmates jailed in North Dakota has grown by 50 percent in the past year from an average of 125 to 130 to 185 to 195, according to Dan Orr, chief deputy for the Marshals Service’s North Dakota District office in Fargo.

Yet, there are few places to house them, especially in the Oil Patch, where the torrid pace of population growth is resulting in corresponding increases in crime rates and arrests.

“We’ve seen an increase in multi-defendant drug cases, where several people are indicted in drug conspiracy crimes,” Orr said. “More and more of those cases are popping up in the Oil Patch. We anticipate that continuing.”

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