An exciting step was taken this week at the Capitol. State officials and legislators formally launched an effort to analyze North Dakota's criminal justice system. The state is partnering with the Council of State Governments (CSG) to review data as it relates to prison and jail populations. After after an in-depth study, CSG will present policy options to the Incarceration Issues Committee to review and potentially develop legislation to be considered during the 2017 Session. North Dakota is the 25th state CSG has assisted in looking for ways to address justice reinvestment. NDACo is encouraged by the study and is working with CSG in collecting county data.
NDACo Surveys County Jails
In anticipation of the interim study, NDACo this fall conducted a survey of the 23 county jail facilities. NDACo presented our findings to the Incarceration Issues Committee. The survey proved to be very insightful, showing that counties are taking major steps to address locally one of the top issues in the state. NDACo discovered nine counties have plans to expand their correctional facilities. It’s simply the result of county jails being at or over capacity across the state. Sheriffs’ deputies are forced to drive three to six hours, across the state, to transport inmates to a facility with availability. In some cases counties have made arrangements with out-of-state facilities to take inmates. The “jail space crunch” is also felt at the state level. Shortly after the state prison expansion was complete, it was full. In response to the issue, the Legislature this interim has formed a specific committee to examine the space issues and explore reform initiatives that could result in proposals for the 2017 Session.
How many are behind bars? Where?
On September 1, 2015, 3,340 people were behind bars in North Dakota. What’s striking to NDACo is that 56% of those incarcerated were sitting in county jails. There were 1,585 inmates serving sentences at the North Dakota State Penitentiary, James River Correctional Center, Missouri River Correctional Center and at the Dakota Women’s Correctional Rehabilitation Center. The number of inmates housed in county jails was 1,754; this includes some state sentenced inmates contracted to be housed in county facilities.
North Dakota county jails consistently house a greater percentage of our state’s offenders than local jails across the country. Nationwide, local jails house 35% of the total inmates. What’s interesting is the make-up of the county jail population. Only 18% of the county inmates were serving a jail sentence on the survey date. 57% were awaiting trial, revocation or transfer to the state prison.
Data provided by DOCR to the interim committee suggests their facilities have seen a 36% increase since 2005. However, county jails have also seen significant growth in the last ten years of 82% with the most rapid growth occurring in the last couple years.
Transporting inmates a temporary solution
North Dakota has 23 jail facilities licensed to hold prisoners more than 96 hours. While the current capacity of all our jails is 1,747; there were 1,754 inmates in those jails on September 1st. In 2014, jails in Bottineau, Burleigh, McKenzie and Ward counties transported inmates every day due to the lack of beds. Three other facilities transported inmates 90 or more days last year. Those who transport the most face enormous transportation and housing costs. To give an example, Burleigh County spent more than $700,000 in 2015 housing inmates outside their facility.
Counties plan to increase jail capacity 48%
Several counties have set in motion plans to solve the crowding issues at the local level. Nine counties (Burleigh, Morton, McKenzie, Williams, Mountrail, Ward, Mercer, Bottineau and Rolette) are currently planning or in the construction phase of replacing or expanding their jail facility. In addition, Stutsman County is considering an expansion. Those expansions would increase statewide jail capacity by 840 beds or 48%. A majority of the additions would be operational in the middle of 2017.