Monday, September 18, 2017

Justice Reinvestment Committee Update

The Justice Reinvestment Committee met Wednesday, September 13th in Bismarck. This committee is charged with continuing the study of alternatives to incarceration. This effort has been on-going since 2005 and will focus more this interim on behavior health programs for individuals in the criminal justice system. Committee Chairman, Senator Kelly Armstrong opened the day up with an overarching statement. 
“I envision us focusing our attention on a more holistic approach of how to deal with the non-violent, addiction related offenders. We need to remember that a majority of these offenders are in county facilities. In anything we develop moving forward we need to make sure we are working with the county sheriffs, jails and state’s attorneys.”

NDACo provided the committee with an update on the inmate population at county correctional facilities. According to a recent jail survey, there were 1548 inmates in county facilities on April 1, 2017. This is down about 200 inmates from the last population survey conducted in 2015. What’s interesting is that in North Dakota, 51% of all inmates are in county facilities; compared to nationally where 32% are in county jails. NDACo also provided lawmakers with a look at the jail expansion projects for 2017. This year, 8 counties will open jail expansions that will bring an additional 886 jail beds online.
NDACo has developed a survey to collect data from the state’s 23 jails operating as grade 1 & 2 facilities (holding inmates for more than 96 hours). The survey has been sent to the facilities and information will be analyzed and shared with the Justice Reinvestment Committee. Committee members have key interest in what counties are doing to identify behavior health needs. Preliminary findings show that 18 counties are screening inmates for behavior health issues; three counties employ Behavior Health Specialists; nine counties have employees assigned to provide medical services to inmates and 10 counties have referred inmates have referred inmates for further assessment based on the results of intake screening. 

Members of the committee also received an update on the numbers of juveniles being incarcerated and the juvenile justice system in North Dakota. It was noted that North Dakota kids are arrested for fewer “violent” crimes compared to national figures. However, arrests for “non-violent” offenses like disorderly conduct, property crime and drugs pushed North Dakota’s overall juvenile crime rate higher. Director of the Juvenile Services Division at the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (ND DOCR) told committee members that resources are important to create more options to divert kids away from going into the system.

This committee also took initial testimony on a study of the operation, management, standards and supervision of city, county and regional correctional facilities and a possible transition of the supervision of these facilities from ND DOCR to the Attorney General. Local correctional facilities have been under the oversight of DOCR since 1989. Director, Leann Bertsch, provided committee members with a very descriptive list of jail inspection findings and compliance orders that have been issued as a result of those inspections.

“These inspections take a lot of time and effort. It is a regulatory role and we are in the best position to conduct this role. Removing us from this role would adversely impact the safety of inmates in jails,” Bertsch said.

Bertsch told committee members there would be no advantage to transferring the oversight to the attorney general.

No position has been taken on the oversight study by NDACo or its member associations at this time. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

NDACo Priority Bills and Effective Dates

Today is the day many new laws passed during the 2017 Legislative Session take effect. Click on the link below to see the spreadsheet NDACo has compiled to show the effective dates for the top county priority bills.